Impacts of global warming

Impact of global warming on New Guinea wildlife

As temperatures rise in the highlands of New Guinea, species that are sensitive to such changes will seek to find a more suitable environment. However, many species will either be unable to move or will have nowhere to go.
For epiphytes, higher temperatures spell disaster. These plants, which play crucial roles in the light, hydrological and nutrient cycles of montane forests are especially sensitive to atmospheric climate change, especially humidity. Even slight shifts in climate can cause wilting - or death.1

In Papua Province, scientists expect that there will be more rainfall, with possibly more frequent and severe El Niño and La Niña events. Species that can live only in alpine areas will likely suffer from this, while significant changes in the chemical composition and stratification of alpine lakes will threaten their flora and fauna.2

For the island’s tightly wound web of life, changes of this kind could signify the unravelling of the montane habitats’ exceptional diversity.

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Impact of global warming on glaciers

New Guinea’s shrinking glaciers, proven climate recorders, threaten to disappear along with their stories -before scientists have the time to study them fully.
Between 1942 and 2000, the Carstensz Glaciers in Indonesian Papua are reported to have decreased from approximately 11 km2 to 2.4 km2 - a massive 80% decrease in ice area.

These glaciers are of huge importance to understand climate history, because they are located in the heart of the El Niño region. Under current conditions of global warming, the ice may be lost from New Guinea within a few decades.3

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Impact of global warming around New Guinea

Warmer temperatures in New Guinea are not just a problem for the island - they stand to affect the entire region.
Under normal conditions, warm surface waters that flow westwards across the Pacific accumulate in the western Pacific, just north of Papua. This area is the single largest heat source to the global atmospheric circulation on the planet.

Climatic disruptions in the New Guinea can influence circulation and rainfall patterns throughout the tropics, and lower to Australia. 4
Foster, P. 2001. The potential negative impacts of global climate change on tropical montane cloud forests. Earth-Science Reviews [Earth-Sci. Rev.]. Vol. 55, no. 1-2, pp. 73-106.
2 Prentice M.L., Hope G.S. 2006. The climate of Papua and its recent changes. In: Marshall, A. J. and Beehler, B. M., (eds), The Ecology of Papua, Singapore: Periplus Editions, in press.
3 Pearce F. March 2006. Hidden Garden of Eden wilts as Earth warms. New Scientist magazine. Issue 2542. p. 17.
4 – Kristopher Helgen, University of Adelaide. Interview with Robyn Williams.

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