Friday, April 06, 2007

The butterfly effect and global warming

Forget about pirates, the real culprit in global warming could be ... butterflies. You may be familiar with the butterfly effect: "The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or, for that matter, prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different." Now just think of the maths. Consider monarchs, there are between 200-500 million of them that migrate between Canada, USA and mexico. Now each butterfly flaps its wings 5-12 times per second. So if one flap of the wing can cause a tornado, it's not inconceivable that the trillions of flapping from monarchs could cause global warming. In all seriousness, there is actually a link, and it's sad. According to the royal society: "Species with northern and/or montane distributions have disappeared from low elevation sites and colonized sites at higher elevations during the twentieth century, consistent with a climate explanation.". In Canada, the range of the monarch also appears to be changing. And parasites are more common: "The spread of certain viral, protozoan, and nematode parasites in temperate insects may be favored by warmer climates that increase the host's breeding season. Prevalence of the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is higher in monarch butterfly populations that breed year-round in warm regions than in more seasonal climates where monarchs migrate long distances between breeding intervals."