Time for Change; What Strange Creatures Will Rise from Our Ponds If Global Warming Continues? the Answer Could Come from Scientists at Botanical Gardens in Wirral. Pottering about Practical Collectables Telling Tales Telling Tales Athenaeum Competition Winner's Moving Story
Byline: David Charters reports
THE teasing question of whether global warming was likely to increase sightings of the Loch Ness monster did not for a moment dam the flow of thoughts from the good professor standing in his wellies down-wind from a parade of water tanks.
The tanks are providing crucial information for Europe's largest experiment into how climate change will affect our ponds, lakes and gardens, where plants and simple creatures are being confused by the seasons.
"Are you suggesting that we might have hippopotami in the Mersey?" he asked, as a slight breeze whispered through the white of his beard.
"Of course, hippopotami were there once," he said, nodding with a quizzical smile, while his words soaked home. Recently?
"No, not for 30,000 years," he replied, instantly crushing hopes of a tourist attraction to match the fabled Nessie.
But Professor Brian Moss, 62, is a chap who knows that temperature is the great governing force. When it changes, so does life on earth.
That is why the work being done by Liverpool University scientists at Ness Botanical Gardens, south Wirral, Cheshire, is of crucial importance to our understanding of what is happening to the planet and how best to control it in the future.
MONSTERS are not expected to burst into view on our lakes, but we can anticipate strange happenings that will in some ways move us closer to the imaginative predictions of science fiction.
In collaboration with colleagues in Belgium, Germany, Norway, Iceland and Denmark, scientists here are investigating the possibility of toxicity in algae rising with the temperature. The effects of warmer water on creatures from unicellular life forms to hardy fish are also being observed.
Prof Moss, a senior lecturer at the University's school of biological sciences, is standing on a squelching, lushly-grassed brow of these splendid gardens overlooking the wildfowl marshes. Across the Dee estuary, you can see the belching industrial belt of docklands beneath the Clwydian hills. Here, nature is haunted by the ambition of man - together making a strangely beautiful picture.
The wind is keen, but surprisingly mild to those of who can remember the bitter and unyielding grip of winters gone by.
With him is Keith Hatton, 49, senior research technician with the School of Biological Sciences. By them is a white object with louvred sides containing instruments which record the weather. It is called a Stephenson Screen and it enables them to measure temperatures passing through the box untouched by sun rays. It is a standardised measurement which can be compared to that at any other weather station in the world with a similar box. It has a weather vane and another device fitted with three cups on a spindle which measure the wind's speed.
Its records go back 40 years and it is part of the Meteorological Office's network of some 650 stations in Great Britain. Most are automatic. This is the only manned one left on Merseyside.
"Over that time, the average overall temperatures have risen between 1.5 and two degrees centigrade," says Keith.
"We were just processing the figures for January and the initial finding is that they are three degrees above the average. It is the warmest January we have had in the 40 years. This pattern of temperature change seems quite rapid and quite marked."
"It is the local manifestation of a global trend," says Prof Moss. "The rate at which the temperature is rising is about 100 times higher than anything we know happened in the past due to natural processes.
The world's scientists are pretty well unanimous in determining that is caused by human activity - burning oil, burning coal, burning fossil fuels."
In the short term and in line with our typically selfish approach to events, people are actually enjoying their gardens more, with flowers blooming for longer periods. …