Effects of climate change in Missouri take root

Monday, March 9, 2009 | 4:34 p.m. CDT; updated 12:08 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2009

COLUMBIA — No longer a phenomenon for future Missourians to worry about, climate change is clearly part of the here and now.

Growing conditions in the state have become more favorable for plants previously found farther south. Several species of birds common to Missouri are shifting their ranges northward. And if climate change continues to unfold as some climatologists predict, Missouri can expect warmer temperatures, shorter winters and an overall increase in rain and flooding.

Missouri's changing birds

Here are some examples of Missouri birds that have become less common, along with the observed northward shift in their range.

  • American tree sparrow (54 miles)
  • Rough-legged hawk (179 miles)
  • Golden eagle (58 miles)
  • American black duck (182 miles)
  • Black-capped chickadee (90 miles)

The following are Missouri birds that have become more common, as well as the observed northward shift in their ranges.

  • Turkey vulture (53 miles)
  • Eastern phoebe (48 miles)
  • Snow goose (217 miles)
  • Northern shoveler (79 miles)
  • Marsh wren (25 miles)

Source: Audubon Society

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That was the subject of the 2009 Missouri Natural Resources Conference held at the Lake of the Ozarks from Feb. 4 to 6. The conference brought together resource specialists from around the state to explore the impact of global climate change on Missouri.

The stated goal of the conference wasn't to debate the cause of climate change. Rather, the goal was to open a scientific discussion about the possible consequences of climate change on the natural resources in Missouri.

Pat Guinan, an MU Extension climatologist with MU's Commercial Agriculture Program, said there is a "general consensus among the scientific community that temperatures are likely going to increase over the next 100 years."

Guinan, who led a workshop at the conference, said some regional climate models, using different economic scenarios, suggest a range of warming in Missouri over the next 100 years. On the less severe end of the spectrum, he said, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could raise annual temperatures in Missouri by an average of 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Under that scenario, the climate in the Columbia area would resemble the present climate of southern Missouri. Under the worst-case scenario, he said, average temperatures in Central Missouri could increase by 7 degrees and result in a climate that resembles present-day central Arkansas.

Anthony Lupo, chairman of the MU department of soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences, said temperatures in Missouri have been rising for 30 years.

"Anyone who denies this isn’t a very good scientist," he said.

What remains in dispute, Lupo said, is whether human-produced greenhouse gases cause global warming.

"The Earth goes through phases of warming and cooling, and though all the computer models we have show that we are in a warming phase, there is no way to differentiate between a natural warming and one that is human-caused,” he said.

Climate change is expected to bring severe drought to many parts of the world, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists from around the world working under the auspices of the United Nations.

Although total global precipitation is expected to decline, the panel has concluded, shifting weather patterns can increase rainfall in certain areas.

Dave Gustafson, a senior fellow with the agricultural Monsanto Co. and a former climate change skeptic, told those gathered at the Missouri conference that “most climate models predict increased rainfall for the Midwest, which means more frequent floods for Missouri.”

According to prediction models from the panel, the Midwest could become anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent wetter during the next 100 years.

Guinan, however, isn’t convinced.

“The climatological signals are less clear for or against the effects of regional climate change on areas other than the warming temperatures it will cause," Guinan said, noting that "uncertainties are higher with precipitation outcomes.”

Regardless, many speakers at the Natural Resources Conference sounded the warning that weather and temperature changes will lead to more chaotic weather, such as severe thunderstorms and flooding.

Jim Kramper, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said the evidence is all around us.

“You wanna see proof of global warming — we now have to deal with tropical storms here in Missouri," Kramper said. "Hurricane Ike rolled right over us. That's not supposed to happen, but it did. That's climate change.”

Kramper later called that comment “tongue-in-cheek.” But he does think one possible impact of climate change could be an increasing threat in Missouri from tropical storms. In September, the remains of Hurricane Gustav moved over mid-Missouri, and the remains of Hurricane Ike and Tropical Storm Lowell followed soon after. Each episode dumped from 3 to 6 inches of rain on parts of central Missouri.

The 56.78 inches of rain that fell in Columbia during 2008 eclipsed the yearly average of 40.28 inches and made it the second-wettest year since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. Guinan noted, however, that the state had been experiencing a dry decade. He said there's no way to know whether the record rainfall was related to climate change. The wettest year on record in Columbia is 1993 — the year of the Great Flood — when 62.5 inches of rain fell.

Northward bound

Each year, members of the Audubon Society  survey and record the frequency and location of every bird they can lay their eyes on. Forty years of data has led them to conclude that birds are moving north.

According to the Audubon Society, the American tree sparrow, the rough-legged hawk, the golden eagle, the American black duck and the black-capped chickadee have become less common in Missouri and more common to the North during the past four decades.

On the other hand, the turkey vulture, the eastern phoebe, the snow goose, the northern shoveler and the marsh wren have become more common in Missouri.

The average range of some bird species has shifted northward — about 220 miles at most.

Linda Joyce, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, told the Natural Resources Conference that the effect of climate change on birds is studied far more than any other animal. She noted that American robins are migrating north two weeks earlier than they have historically been reported and that tree swallows are beginning their egg-laying season an average of nine days earlier.

Pete Nowak of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison noted in his presentation that the first song of the season for cardinals comes, on average, 22 days earlier than it did 60 years ago.

Jill DeWitt, policy coordinator for Audubon Missouri, said tundra species such as the snowy owl and the American golden plover — both occasionally seen in Missouri — are most at risk.

“Our Missouri prairie birds are also in peril,” DeWitt said. “They may be unable to find the healthy habitats they need, like grasslands, which are being decimated by overuse and overdevelopment. They have few other places to go and did not show much movement in our study.

“While all of the other birds are moving north, these birds simply don’t have anywhere farther north to go,” DeWitt said. “Along with changes in climate come changes in the availability of food sources such as insects and caterpillars for young birds. We are seeing birds that are malnourished and too weak to leave the nest die.”

Research at Michigan State University found that armadillo sightings were rare in Missouri in 1995. Less than a decade later, armadillos had become well-established in the state. According to research, the only barrier to the armadillo’s northward expansion would be harsh northern winters, something the armadillo cannot tolerate well and something that has become rarer as temperatures warm.

Plant diversity could mean adaptation

Plant habitats are shifting north as well. A study by the national Arbor Day Foundation showed that the majority of Missouri has moved into an entirely different plant hardiness zone in less than 20 years. These zones divide the United States and Canada into 11 areas based on a 10-degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. They are used by the Arbor Day Foundation to represent conditions that favor specific types of plant growth.

This northward shift means that growing conditions in Missouri have become more favorable for plant types found to the south.

Several plants that were limited to southern Missouri two decades ago are now well-suited to grow throughout the state, including the Leyland cypress, the blue hydrangea, the southern magnolia and the pecan.

“Missouri faces such high stress from climate change because the large diversity of plant species in Missouri could experience great changes,” said Joyce, of the U.S. Forest Service. “This diversity of plant species also offers Missouri many options for adapting to the changing climate.”

Monsanto Co. is working on adapting farming in the state to meet the challenges of climate change.

“We are working to produce crops and farming techniques that release less nitrous oxide, which is responsible for 70 percent of agriculture’s contribution to climate change,” senior fellow Gustafson said. “We are increasing yield, disease resistance and the ability of these crops to face environment stresses.”

'We need to act now'

The Audubon Society puts itself squarely in the camp of those who attribute climate change to human-produced greenhouse gases.

“The reason we believe these shifts in bird ranges are being caused by climate change is that there is a strong correlation between shifting ranges and winter temperature trends,” DeWitt said.

The relationship between bird ranges and climate change explains some of the movements seen among U.S. bird species, DeWitt said. Birds are found farther north in warmer winters than in colder winters.

“We have had a very cold winter this year, but that becomes even more dangerous in this situation because the birds move north following the long-term trend, then you have a very cold winter and you see massive die-off,” DeWitt added.

She cited the die-off of brown pelicans along the Pacific Coast this year as an example. Pelicans weren’t found there until recently, and they were ill-equipped to survive a big snowstorm that occurred off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

“People who think the effects of climate change will be seen far from home should think again,” DeWitt said. “Climate disruption is being seen here and now. We need to act now to stem the causes, minimize its severity and take science-based conservation action to help species and habitats weather the changes we can’t avoid."

The Arbor Day Foundation suggests planting a tree to help counter climate change. It says a single tree can pull more than a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of its life.

'We can and will handle this challenge'

Although speakers at the Natural Resources Conference had much to say about what needs to be done to counter climate change, they gave little attention to what’s being done in Missouri.

“Missouri’s record on resource management has been excellent,” said Marc Vanacht of AG Business Consultants, an agriculture and food business-consulting firm based in the St. Louis area, after the conference. He added, however, that awareness of climate change has come to Missouri at a much slower pace than in some other states.

Vanacht said that Missouri's extreme weather might have made climate changes hard to notice.

Gustafson noted that we’re seeing more warming in winter and spring. “This makes for more mild winters and springs and summers that come earlier.”

Nowak, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said his state already is seeing warmer weather and less snow and ice. That has had a serious impact on the winter tourism industry, he said.

Nowak said Wisconsin has taken significant steps to prepare for climate change. The state has its own panel on climate change, with working groups for forestry, wildlife and storm water as well as others for individual city populations. These groups work to identify specific vulnerabilities and make plans for handling them.

He said that Wisconsin is approaching climate change from two angles — mitigation and adaptation — and that Missouri needs to do the same.

Mitigation of climate change involves attempts to limit greenhouse gas output by, for example, converting to alternate energy sources that don't contribute carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Adaptation involves increasing the ability of resources such as food production, water systems and natural resources to handle climate changes as they occur.

“You need to recognize indicators of vulnerability, manage entire systems rather than just their components and practice adaptive management,” Nowak said. “Increasing resiliency and risk management will be key.”

Paul Myers, an environmental specialist with the Air Pollution Control Program at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said he “would tend to agree with the idea that we are not leaders on the issue of climate change. There are states that are doing a lot more than Missouri, but we are doing some things that other states aren’t."

One Missouri program, known as net metering, allows homes and businesses that produce their own energy with solar panels or wind turbines to sell excess power back into the grid. The program is designed to make renewable energy more attractive.

Missouri voters in November also passed Proposition C, which requires that utilities in the state get 2 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011 and up to 15 percent by 2021. There also are programs that let consumers pay a premium for power produced by green energy sources such as solar and wind.

Myers acknowledged that Missouri lacks several programs that other states have.

“We have no target for reducing greenhouse gas levels," he said. "Many states have mandates that try to roll back emissions to year 2000 levels.”

Myers said House Bill 470, the Global Warming Solutions Act, sets goals for reducing greenhouses gases, “but I don’t know what chance it has of passing.” Currently, no action is scheduled for the bill.

“We are also behind in building energy codes,” Myers said. “Some states set minimum energy-efficiency codes, but we do not.”

Myers said he thinks that one of the reasons Missouri has not established these sorts of policies is that officials anticipated the federal government would have done so by now.

“These policies can be very costly,” he said, “and when you have a conflict between a state and federal mandate, it makes the process all the more complicated.”

Vanacht, though, remains optimistic Missouri can deal with climate change.

“We have the people and we have the infrastructure,” he said. “We can and will handle this challenge. There are others, however, who will face the same challenges but lack the tools to handle it.”

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Charles Dudley Jr March 9, 2009 | 4:43 p.m.

Oh but but but people will tell you climate change is all a hoax.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 9, 2009 | 7:29 p.m.

Adaptation is far more important than prevention. Even if climate change is 100% caused by humans, the cuts required to stabilize CO2 levels where they are now would mean Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Australians adopt a lifesytle more like Cuba's, or poor countries in Africa. The rest of the developing world, even China and India, would have to be persuaded to stop developing.

This will never happen in a world of self-interested consumers. And if climate change is natural, nothing we do (short of "global dimming", (Google is your friend)) will stop it. Therefore, we need to prepare, rather than waste time and energy touting 1% solutions to a 100% problem.


(Report Comment)
Robert craig March 9, 2009 | 8:31 p.m.

That's because it IS a hoax. One of the greatest in our lifetime. Science is not consensus. This is a boondoggle to separate us from our wallets and propel us into the Stone Age.

(Report Comment)
Eric Niewoehner March 9, 2009 | 9:08 p.m.

Nice article. I think climate change is a fascinating subject basically because it happens all the time. SE Alaska is one of the prime locations for the study of climate change because the forests around here are no more than 14000 years in age, where glaciers have melted down 4000 feet over that period of time.

The study of climate change not only shows what is at risk (winter tourism in Wisconsin and specie exposure to winter weather), but also the opportunities (improved wine production in Washington, salmon spawning in Alaska and record snow depth at our local ski resort).

I find the "global warming" debate distracting. It would be more productive to focus on specific issues, such as the increase acidity of the oceans (which has almost direct correlation to increased carbon in the atmosphere) and red-tide (which is closely related to nitrate runoff from agriculture), and local air pollution (caused by everyone driving their cars -- including the environmentalists). In the process of localizing or concentrating the debate, people would be aware of cause and effect --- and in the long term address more constructively environmental issues.

(Report Comment)
Michael Amantea March 9, 2009 | 9:50 p.m.

I actually got a lot of information on red tide and ocean acidity from my sources. It didn't get used because it is not local to Missouri, however it is comforting to know that that knowledge is out there. As a reporter I want everyone to know everything that I feel is important, but you have to pick and choose what you publish and where.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 10, 2009 | 5:01 a.m.

This was a very heated debate on the old Trib Board.

(Report Comment)
Jill DeWitt March 10, 2009 | 6:45 a.m.

To clarify, the birds and climate report was based on forty years of data collected nationwide by the National Audubon Society ( The Audubon Society of Missouri collects and reports data on bird sightings within Missouri(

Additional information on birds and climate is available at

(Report Comment)
John M. Nowell, III March 10, 2009 | 10:20 a.m.

Poster Robert Craig said it best! I remember in the early 1970s when Newsweek's cover story was the comming ICE AGE, now the debate has switched to global warming. When the data for the last 100 years shows the increase has been about 6/10ths of 1 degree, and from 1997 we have been in a cooling situation, the debate has become "climate change" rather that global warming.

Science is not conscience, science is an accepted, and irrefutable fact, like the earth is round, not flat. I submit that the scientists who suscribe to the "global warming/climate change" theory get their income from federal government grants, hince their opinions. FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Every time a volcano errupts, it spews out more noxious gases and polution than all the cars have in America since the invention of the automobile, but the earth keeps on turning folks. Volcanos have been errupting long before man started emitting CO2 gases.

Could it be that climate change might have something to do with the sun, sun spots, the roatation cycle of the earth? If you read the Farmer's Almanac, these temperature changes run in cycles, and repeat themselves. Who's to say that the temperature 10, 15, 20 years ago is ideal? Warmer weather will promote tree and plant growth, and they will emit oxygen, and stablize the greenhouse gases. The majority of the oxygen is produced by the vegetation in the oceans. Mother Earth will be here long after we are all dead.

If you feel guilty about your lifestyle, buy some carbon credits from Algore, or better yet, spend your money locally, as I planted 7 trees in the last 2 years. I could use the extra income these days, thanks to the wizards of smart in Washington, D.C. Peace Out.

(Report Comment)
Karen Seneker March 10, 2009 | 10:29 a.m.

Are you people hiring professionals now, instead of staffing with students? The graphic layout of this article is a tremendous draw for your paper. It shows creativity and skill as well as an overall understanding of newspaper layout and design ALSO keeping up with the diversity needed to attract readers on the internet. Well Done!

(Report Comment)
Rob Weir March 10, 2009 | 12:47 p.m.

@Karen: The Missourian is staffed by students who work under the guidance of professional journalists. We've done it that way for 100 years and don't plan to change it anytime soon.

Glad you like the design. I'll pass your thoughts along to our design professor, Joy Mayer.

Rob Weir
Director of Digital Development
The Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 10, 2009 | 2:53 p.m.

Mr. Nowell,

You cite Newsweek as evidence that scientists believed the Earth was cooling in the early seventies. Unfortunately for your argument, Newsweek is not a scientific journal. If you attend a scientific conference you will not see representatives from Newsweek. Scientists who are seeking to publish data do not submit their manuscripts to Newsweek. Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center surveyed peer-reviewed journals from 1965-1979 and found only 7 that supported global cooling, this is in contrast to the 44 that predicted warming (20 were neutral). That's 10% vs. 62%. During this time frame, if one were to generalize about the consensus view on whether the Earth was warming or cooling, it would be quite a stretch to go with the 10% crowd.
As to your claim that we have been cooling since 1997, this too is erroneous. Check out this data from NASA:
You will notice that in the opening paragraph they state: "The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008."
I realize this will not sway your opinion, but perhaps you will think twice before making counterfactual arguments.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 10, 2009 | 3:31 p.m.

Anybody with the time can go search any major search engine with various word strings and research all about global climate changes for as long a records have been kept.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking March 10, 2009 | 4:32 p.m.

I hear from people here and there that there is no way that humans can change the climate. But humans have never been so numerous, and they have never had access to as much carbon fuel as we do now - not by orders of magnitude.
200 years ago, the CO2 contribution of a human might have been a ton or two, virtually all of it from carbon neutral sources like wood. Now, it averages two, (some make over 20) from fossil fuel sources, and there are about 10 times as many of us. We put over twice as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the earth can absorb each year. Why is it silly to think man can't change the climate?


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 10, 2009 | 5:36 p.m.

Mark Foecking I remember ole philneel trying to put everybody's claims down no matter what was presented as proof positive.

(Report Comment)
Michael Amantea March 10, 2009 | 11:41 p.m.

NASA recently was going to launch a very expensive satellite to do nothing other that study CO2 in the atmosphere and where it pools and where it is absorbed.

The launch failed and the satellite splashed down in the ocean.

Many of the scientists I talked to did acknowledge some possibility that climate change is not human caused, but felt that the consequences of being wrong are minuscule while the consequences of human-caused climate change could be catastrophic.

(Report Comment)
Rhonda Ferber June 3, 2009 | 10:08 a.m.

I think global warming will start affecting people's lives a lot sooner than we've been led to believe. People are still debating this in the media, yet all the evidence from our own backyards tell us that global warming is real and it's happening a lot faster than anyone expected.

Spring flower bulbs have almost no dormant phase now. They start sprouting almost as soon as you put them in the ground, long before the months we used to think of as springtime. Plants are changing quickly enough that we can clearly see the adaptations to warmer weather.

The rains we are having in the Midwest resemble the tropical rains that used to only happen in the Deep South. The rain comes down fast and hard, drenches everything within minutes and produces flood conditions before it can be absorbed into the soil. That kind of fast, drenching rain used to be confined mostly to states along the Gulf Coast.

Another sign of climate change is just the size of the insects. If you've ever lived down South, you know the insects down there are huge compared to the ones we're used to in the Midwest. Lately I've been seeing insects that are much bigger than normal for our area.

The Gulf Coast is coming to us, and fast. At the rate it's going, we may be able to buy beachfront property right here in the Midwest.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 3, 2009 | 10:25 a.m.

Another indication of changing climate is the increase in the population of the root-knot nematode in central MO. It used to get cold enough in the winter to kill enough of them that they weren't a problem. Now, most of the community gardens on Columbia have them, and they will become a greater problem as the winters continue to get milder.


(Report Comment)
Anton Berkovich June 3, 2009 | 11:35 a.m.

John M. Nowell, III or Robert Craig, could you please post a link to a peer-reviewed article from a scientist or scientists that claims global warming is a myth or not man-made? Thanks.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock June 3, 2009 | 1:45 p.m.

Rhonda says "Spring flower bulbs have almost no dormant phase now. They start sprouting almost as soon as you put them in the ground, long before the months we used to think of as springtime. Plants are changing quickly enough that we can clearly see the adaptations to warmer weather."

I am pretty sure my bulbs didn't sprout until the spring. Do you have any data to support your claim?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 4, 2009 | 10:37 a.m.

They didn't sprout early this year. I remember in 2006 and 2007 they did - I had daffodil nubs poking up before Christmas one year.

All over the northern hemisphere, warm weather palnts, animals, and diseases are moving north. Of course, this doesn't show if it's man made or not.


(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote June 4, 2009 | 3:19 p.m.

Mark, is that the same nematode that causes pine wilt (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus)? I lost a nice 40 ft. Scots pine in my front lawn to it. Also many of the pines at Stephens lake are dead or dying from it. I doubt there will be many left in the next 5 years. It's easy to identify infected trees as you can see the numerous holes drilled in them by boring beetles.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 4, 2009 | 4:07 p.m.

Chris - I checked, and it's not. The pine pest is called the pine wilt nematode, and it's a quite different species. Still, these are pests whose life is being made easier by rising average temperatures.


(Report Comment)
Cole Edwards January 13, 2011 | 9:18 p.m.

As to pecans being limited to Southern Missouri, Pecan Trees are native to Chariton County, which is in Central Missouri.

(Report Comment)
Daniel Stolte May 11, 2011 | 3:03 p.m.

Robert craig wrote:

"That's because it IS a hoax. One of the greatest in our lifetime. Science is not consensus."

Science actually is a consensus with regard to climate change. Sorry to burst your bubble.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 11, 2011 | 3:58 p.m.

"Every time a volcano errupts, it spews out more noxious gases and polution than all the cars have in America since the invention of the automobile, but the earth keeps on turning folks. Volcanos have been errupting long before man started emitting CO2 gases."

Dude. If you are going to be so pretentious as to put a III before your name you should either learn to spell or at least use spell check so you don't embarrass the rest of your family tree.

That aside, you have made the least intelligent argument that I have read today.

Yes, volcanoes have erupted since the earth first formed a crust. Well, unless you subscribe to "creationism", in which case it is pointless to talk to you. However we have the ability to observe the atmospheric content of various gasses by taking these things called CORE SAMPLES and we have taken thousands of them.

You can use your computer to summon graphs indicating the atmospheric content of CO2 at any point in recent history. For instance, here is one:

There were a lot of volcanoes that went off during that time. Do you really think that is what caused the spike at the end? Really??????????

I can't stand being lectured by the inept. And if you are not inept then you are assuming that everyone who reads the trash you write is. And I don't like that kind of insult. So whichever is the case, it doesn't even matter. You have earned my derision.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 11, 2011 | 4:13 p.m.

This is great. We warmed the planet enough to make passages around the Arctic and now it is time to fight to see who gets to drill the oil.

(Report Comment)

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