New Google Earth Overlays Show Shifting Global Climate Distribution
A new series of global maps are overlaid with data showing how fast and in what direction climates are shifting around the world.
Led by climate researchers from Australia's national science institution CSIRO, the team created the maps (which are available as a Google Earth plug-in) by analyzing half a century of sea and surface land temperature data, as well as accounting for two often-used future climate models.
The maps reveal where thermal environments are being generated and where existing environments may disappear, CSIRO said.
Elvira Poloczanska, a CSIRO research scientist involved in the project, said the maps show where plants and animals may struggle to find new habitats amid a changing climate as well as "provide crucial information for targeting conservation efforts."
The maps were created using data collected between 1960 and 2009.
"The maps show us how fast and in which direction temperatures are shifting, and where climate migrants following them may hit barriers such as coastlines. Our work shows that climate migration is far more complex than a simple shift towards the poles," said Kristen Williams, an ecological geographer on the project team.
"Across Australia, species are already experiencing warmer temperatures," she said. "In terrestrial habitats, species have started to seek relief by moving to higher elevations, or further south. However, some species of animals and plants cannot move large distances, and some not at all."
For Australia in particular, the researchers note the continent's unforgiving interior region as a place where species currently living there are already thriving along the margin of their thermal tolerances. The researchers said that if animals travel from Australia's north seeking cooler temperatures in the south, they may wind up perishing.
"The central lowlands of eastern Australia that drain the Lake Eyre Basin, are a source of new thermal climates and species migration may sweep in all directions - toward the coast, south, inland and progressively up mountain ranges," the researchers wrote in a blog post. "This is a complex region including parts of the Murray Darling Basin around which rapid thermal shifts are occurring and we can expect considerable climate migration."
However, the scientists do note that their study cannot be used as a sole guide for climate change.
"Biological factors such as a species' capacity to adapt and disperse need to be taken into consideration," said Anthony Richardson a researcher at CSIRO and University of Queensland.
"But in an unprecedented period of climate change, economic development and fast growing demand on an already pressured planet, we need to act fast to make sure as much of the world's living resources survive that change," he said.