Climate change & Maine bees at MSBA

unloading the tractor at runamuk

Former president of the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association and retired state of Maine acquatic biologist, Matt Scott gave a presentation at this year’s annual conference entitled: “Climate Change and Habitat Fragmentation to Honey Bees in Maine”. Scott acknowledged that climate change is something of a controversial topic, but admits that at his age he is less constrained by society’s rules. Personally, I think it’s good to talk about climate change and the effect it is having or will yet have on the Earth and all who live here; after all, once upon a time the concept that the Earth could be round was also a controversial topic.

What is global warming?

Scott began by defining global warming, which is “the warming of the Earth from carbon dioxide and other air pollution collecting in our atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat and causing the increasing the temperatures of our planet.”

Increasing temperatures & carbon dioxide levels

climate change in maine at msbaAccording to Scott, global temperatures gradually increased between 1950 and 2010, and carbon dioxide levels increased between 1960 and 1995 from 315 ppm (parts per million) to 365 ppm. Scientists conducting on-going temperature analysis at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies state that since 1880 the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about .8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). And two-thirds of that warming has occurred since 1975 at a rate of roughly .15-.20 degrees Celsius per decade.

When scientists first began looking at the warming trend, they could only look back to about 1880 when we first had the tools to analyze and record the data. But since the 1950s teams have been venturing to Greenland and the Antarctic to take ice core samples, which allows for continuous reconstructions of past climate—800,000 years or more.

The high rates of snow accumulation in these regions provide an excellent time resolution and bubbles in the ice core preserve actual samples of the world’s atmosphere. Scientists can then analyze the preserved samples to learn more about glacial-interglacial cycles, changing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and climate stability over the last 10,000 years. Looking at past concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the layers of the ice cores, scientists can calculate how modern amounts of carbon dioxide and methane correlate to those of the past and compare past concentrations of greenhouse gasses to temperatures.

Rising seas

Scott went on to site the evidence for rapid climate change, pointing out the rising sea levels—17 centimeters in the last century, warming oceans, and shrinking ice sheets and decreased snow cover among the many indicators for global warming.

“There has been significant melting of ice and snow in Greenland,” Scott stated. And Nasa’s site for Global Climate Change confirms that not only Greenland’s, but also the Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. In fact, Nasa’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment indicate that Greenland lost 36-60 cubic miles of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antacrtica lost approximately 36 cubic miles of ice between 2002 and 2005.

Episodic events

matt scott auatic biologist
Matt Scott is a 40-year beekeeping veteran, an inspiration to beekeepers across the state.

Some folks look at individual events such as a nor’easter that drops 14 inches of snow in December, or the recent arctic vortex that plunged Maine into frigid temperatures and scoff at the notion of global warming and climate change. However Matt Scott says that these extreme weather events—referred to by the scientific community as “episodic climactic events” are proof of the changes that our planet is facing.

Further online research lead me to the National Climatic Data Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which lists in detail these episodic weather events from around the world—all the way back to 1991. Events like the ice storms of 1998 that caused so much damage across eastern North America, the historic U.S. heatwave experienced during 2012, increased incidence of wildfires in the western part of the country, and of course—the polar vortex during the 2013-2014 winter, just to name a few.

Incidentally scientists have identified that interactions with the decline of Arctic sea ice, reduced snow cover, evapotraspiration patterns, NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) anomalies, along with various weather anomalies are all linked to the polar vortex and the configuration of the jet stream.

Stronger storms

climate change lends to episodic events
We experienced an episodic event here in the central Maine area this summer. A giant thunderstorm delivered a torrential downpour that wiped out roads, and as the storm moved east is picked up speed and actually became a minor tornado.

Scott talked about how climate change may not be creating hurricanes, but they are making them stronger—turning a category 3 hurricane into a much stronger category 4 or 5. And according to Nova via—hurricanes are essentially giant heat engines transferring latent heat energy from the ocean to the atmosphere and transforming some of it into mechanical energy in the process. The result is those hurricane force winds and giant waves that are associated with these storms.

So if you pump more heat into such a storm system, warming the atmosphere and the ocean—it makes sense that the venting will get stronger as well.

Climate change in Maine

Maine is getting warmer and wetter than it has been in the past. Matt Scott records weather data from his home in Belgrade, and said that he used to see maybe 4-5 days of above 90-degree weather there, but this year they saw more than 11 days of above average temperatures. NASA’s site for Global Climate Change states that since 1950 the number of record high temperature event in the U.S. is increasing, while the number of record low temperature events have been decreasing. These rising temperatures increase the risk of drought, and could result in vegetation die-offs and drier soil conditions can also contribute to more sever heat waves.

climate change in maine
This is the same major storm that swept through the area in July.

At the same time we’ve witnessed an increasing number of intense rainfall events—such as the massive storm that swept through central Maine this summer, even producing a tornado over in Saint Albans. Associated with the risk of drought and drying is the projected increase in intense precipitation—which leads to flooding, like those witnessed out west. It seems counter-intuitive, but because the precipitation is concentrated into more intense events with longer dry periods between, the parched Earth cannot as readily absorb the rainfall, which leads to the flooding.

All of these factors will inevitably have some kind of impact on Maine’s future climate. Warming temperatures will likely alter the composition of tree species that make up Maine’s forests, because we are in a transition zone between the eastern temperate forest to the south and the boreal forests to the north. Any climate induced changes to our forests are likely to occur quicker and be more pronounced here in Maine than they would be in other places.

How climate change affects Maine bees

how climate change affects maine's native bees
The blossoms on blueberry bushes have a shape that honeybees cannot effectively pollinate–so a healthy population of native species will ensure adequate pollination of your farm’s blueberry bushes.

We may also see the migration of animal species moving farther north—animals such as the moose and black-capped chickadee who prefer cooler climates. At the same time warming temperatures promote the spread of invasive exotic plants that choke out our native species. The availability of native plants is directly linked to the population of insects—including our native pollinators—that we see here in Maine. Currently we have some 270 documented species of native bees, but that population will likely change as our climate and ecological processes are altered by warming temperatures.

In addition to climate change, native bee species are facing the increasing threat that habitat fragmentation poses. Scott sites that since 1960 Maine has seen it’s population grow from .7 million to 1.4 million in 1990. That kind of growth means the expansion of suburban and urban suburbs. We’ve also seen an increase in lakeshore development and year-round living in areas that were historically wilderness territories. He went on to say that the development and loss of farmlands further reduces the available forage for native bees and honeybees alike, all the while creating a greater footprint that mankind is leaving upon the Earth.

The undeniable truth

habitat fragmentation of maine beesThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in the face of the ice cores that can trek warming trends back some 800,000 years, along with the myriad of data gathered regarding the rising sea levels, rising global and oceanic temperatures, shrinking ice sheets and more–state that the current warming trend is particularly significant because it most likely is induced by human activity and has increased at an unprecedented rate over the past 1300 years.

According to the IPCC, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

Scott credited much of his findings to the research and documentation provided by one Dr. George Jacobsen, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Ecology, and Climate Change and who is associated with the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

“The enemy is us,” Scott quoted the 70’s-era Pogo comic strip, and went on to say: “We need to include ourselves in this process—we’re part of the problem, and we need to be part of the solution.”

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!