Science  04 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6081, pp. 526

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  1. Wind Farms Warm the Night

    Large wind farms can boost nighttime temperatures, according to a study that analyzed satellite images of a 10,000-square-kilometer area of west-central Texas. More than 95% of the turbines in the area were erected between 2003 and 2011. And, during those 9 years, the areas where the wind farms were located warmed up on summer nights by, on average, 0.65°C more than nearby areas without wind turbines.


    At night, the air at ground level is cooler than the air a few dozen meters up; turbulence generated by individual wind turbines brings warm air downward to heat the surface, the team reported online 29 April in Nature Climate Change. The warming rates measured in this study—the first to show temperature increases based on satellite data rather than computer simulations, the researchers note—are high simply because the region has experienced a rapid growth in wind farm development. The warming effect for any given wind farm will likely level off if no more turbines are added, the researchers report.

  2. Plants More Sensitive to Global Warming Than Tests Suggest

    Ecologists trying to anticipate the effects of climate change often set up “warming” experiments in which they artificially heat up an environment and monitor plants' reactions. But those results are falling short of reality, says Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecologist at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

    The timing of plants leafing out or blooming—part of a field called phenology—is a sensitive indicator of how ecosystems respond to climate change. Aside from using warming experiments, ecologists track phenology through long-term monitoring of plant populations. Wolkovich and her colleagues compared phenology data on 1643 different species in 36 warming studies and in 14 long-term data sets. The team determined how much sooner each species flowered or leafed out per degree of temperature rise. Plants in the longterm studies leafed out four times sooner and flowered eight times sooner than the warming experiments predicted, Wolkovich and her colleagues reported this week in Nature.


    That discrepancy could present problems to scientists who use warming experiment data in modeling studies. “If the warming experiments are not providing an accurate prediction, then you can't predict how ecosystem services will respond,” says Johanna Schmitt, a plant ecologist at Brown University, who was not involved with the work.