Climate Change

Glacial CalvingClimate change, caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, is driven by human activity. Anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon are primarily responsible for the changing climate. Burning fossil fuels and clearing natural habitats for human use produce the majority of these emissions. Climate change continues to cause glacial melting in Greenland and the Antarctic, rising sea levels, increases in global mean surface temperatures, increases in extreme weather events, and changes in the abundance, distribution, and composition of species. Climate change and the above ecosystem transformations are inextricably connected; as a result, these changes and impacts mutually exacerbate each other.

Learning Objectives

  • L1: Summarize climatic changes over time, highlighting specific eras in human history.
  • L2: Describe and discuss the anthropogenic drivers of climate change.
  • L3: Consider strategies for climatic adaptation and mitigation with a focus on human health.
  • L4: Critically evaluate the purpose and effectiveness of recent global climate change policies and events, considering the roles of key stakeholders.


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Gorris ME, Cat LA, Zender CS, Treseder KK. Coccidioidomycosis Dynamics in Relation to Climate in the Southwestern United States . GeoHealth [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Valley fever is endemic to the southwestern United States. Humans contract this fungal disease by inhaling spores of Coccidioides spp. Changes in the environment can influence the abundance and dispersal of Coccidioides spp., causing fluctuations in valley fever incidence. We combined county-level case records from state health agencies to create a regional valley fever database for the southwestern United States, including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah. We used this data set to explore how environmental factors influenced the spatial pattern and temporal dynamics of valley fever incidence during 2000–2015. We compiled climate and environmental geospatial data sets from multiple sources to compare with valley fever incidence. These variables included air temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, surface dust concentration, normalized difference vegetation index, and cropland area. We found that valley fever incidence was greater in areas with warmer air temperatures and drier soils. The mean annual cycle of incidence varied throughout the southwestern United States and peaked following periods of low precipitation and soil moisture. From year-to-year, however, autumn incidence was higher following cooler, wetter, and productive springs in the San Joaquin Valley of California. In southcentral Arizona, incidence increased significantly through time. By 2015, incidence in this region was more than double the rate in the San Joaquin Valley. Our analysis provides a framework for interpreting the influence of climate change on valley fever incidence dynamics. Our results may allow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to improve their estimates of the spatial pattern and intensity of valley fever endemicity.

Risser MD, Wehner MF. Attributable Human-Induced Changes in the Likelihood and Magnitude of the Observed Extreme Precipitation during Hurricane Harvey . Geophysical Research Letters [Internet]. 2017;44 (24). Publisher's VersionAbstract

Record rainfall amounts were recorded during Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, Texas, area, leading to widespread flooding. We analyze observed precipitation from the Global Historical Climatology Network with a covariate-based extreme value statistical analysis, accounting for both the external influence of global warming and the internal influence of El Niño–Southern Oscillation. We find that human-induced climate change likely increased the chances of the observed precipitation accumulations during Hurricane Harvey in the most affected areas of Houston by a factor of at least 3.5. Further, precipitation accumulations in these areas were likely increased by at least 18.8% (best estimate of 37.7%), which is larger than the 6–7% associated with an attributable warming of 1°C in the Gulf of Mexico and Clausius-Clapeyron scaling. In a Granger causality sense, these statements provide lower bounds on the impact of climate change and motivate further attribution studies using dynamical climate models.

Missirian A, Schlenker W. Asylum applications respond to temperature fluctuations . Science [Internet]. 2017;358 (6370). Publisher's VersionAbstract

International negotiations on climate change, along with recent upsurges in migration across the Mediterranean Sea, have highlighted the need to better understand the possible effects of climate change on human migration—in particular, across national borders. Here we examine how, in the recent past (2000–2014), weather variations in 103 source countries translated into asylum applications to the European Union, which averaged 351,000 per year in our sample. We find that temperatures that deviated from the moderate optimum (~20°C) increased asylum applications in a nonlinear fashion, which implies an accelerated increase under continued future warming. Holding everything else constant, asylum applications by the end of the century are predicted to increase, on average, by 28% (98,000 additional asylum applications per year) under representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenario 4.5 and by 188% (660,000 additional applications per year) under RCP 8.5 for the 21 climate models in the NASA Earth Exchange Global Daily Downscaled Projections (NEX-GDDP).

Alkishe AA, Peterson AT, Samy AM. Climate change influences on the potential geographic distribution of the disease vector tick Ixodes ricinus . PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract


Ixodes ricinus is a species of hard tick that transmits several important diseases in Europe and North Africa, including Lyme borreliosis and tick-borne encephalitis. Climate change is affecting the geographic distributions and abundances of arthropod vectors, which in turn influence the geographic distribution and epidemiology of associated vector-borne diseases. To date, few studies have investigated effects of climate change on the spatial distribution of I. ricinus at continental extents. Here, we assessed the potential distribution of I. ricinus under current and future climate conditions to understand how climate change will influence the geographic distribution of this important tick vector in coming decades.


We used ecological niche modeling to estimate the geographic distribution of I. ricinus with respect to current climate, and then assessed its future potential distribution under different climate change scenarios. This approach integrates occurrence records of I. ricinus with six relevant environmental variables over a continental extent that includes Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Future projections were based on climate data from 17 general circulation models (GCMs) under 2 representative concentration pathway emissions scenarios (RCPs), for the years 2050 and 2070.


The present and future potential distributions of I. ricinus showed broad overlap across most of western and central Europe, and in more narrow zones in eastern and northern Europe, and North Africa. Potential expansions were observed in northern and eastern Europe. These results indicate that I. ricinus populations could emerge in areas in which they are currently lacking, posing increased risks to human health in those areas. However, the future of I. ricinusticks in some important regions such the Mediterranean was unclear owing to high uncertainty in model predictions.

Vázquez-Rowe I, Larrea-Gallegos G, Villanueva-Rey P, Gilardino A. Climate change mitigation opportunities based on carbon footprint estimates of dietary patterns in Peru . PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Food consumption accounts for an important proportion of the world GHG emissions per capita. Previous studies have delved into the nature of dietary patterns, showing that GHG reductions can be achieved in diets if certain foods are consumed rather than other, more GHG intensive products. For instance, vegetarian and low-meat diets have proved to be less carbon intensive than diets that are based on ruminant meat. These environmental patterns, increasingly analyzed in developed nations, are yet to be assessed in countries liked Peru where food purchase represents a relatively high percentage of the average household expenditure, ranging from 38% to 51% of the same. Therefore, food consumption can be identified as a potential way to reduce GHG emissions in Peru. However, the Peruvian government lacks a specific strategy to mitigate emissions in this sector, despite the recent ratification of the Paris Accord. In view of this, the main objective of this study is to analyze the environmental impacts of a set of 47 Peruvian food diet profiles, including geographical and socioeconomic scenarios. In order to do this, Life Cycle Assessment was used as the methodological framework to obtain the overall impacts of the components in the dietary patterns observed and primary data linked to the composition of diets were collected from the Peruvian National Institute for Statistics (INEI). Life cycle inventories for the different products that are part of the Peruvian diet were obtained from a set of previous scientific articles and reports regarding food production. Results were computed using the IPCC 2013 assessment method to estimate GHG emissions. Despite variations in GHG emissions from a geographical perspective, no significant differences were observed between cities located in the three Peruvian natural regions (i.e., coast, Andes and Amazon basin). In contrast, there appears to be a strong, positive correlation between GHG emissions and social expenditure or academic status. When compared to GHG emissions computed in the literature for developed nations, where the average caloric intake is substantially higher, diet-related emissions in Peru were in the low range. Our results could be used as a baseline for policy support to align nutritional and health policies in Peru with the need to reduce the environmental impacts linked to food production.

McCoy D, McManus MA, Kotubetey Kʻiahonui, Kawelo AHʻilei, Young C, D’Andrea B, Ruttenberg KC, Alegado R ʻA. Large-scale climatic effects on traditional Hawaiian fishpond aquaculture . PLoS ONE [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Aquaculture accounts for almost one-half of global fish consumption. Understanding the regional impact of climate fluctuations on aquaculture production thus is critical for the sustainability of this crucial food resource. The objective of this work was to understand the role of climate fluctuations and climate change in subtropical coastal estuarine environments within the context of aquaculture practices in Heʻeia Fishpond, Oʻahu Island, Hawaiʻi. To the best of our knowledge, this was the first study of climate effects on traditional aquaculture systems in the Hawaiian Islands. Data from adjacent weather stations were analyzed together with in situwater quality instrument deployments spanning a 12-year period (November 2004 –November 2016). We found correlations between two periods with extremely high fish mortality at Heʻeia Fishpond (May and October 2009) and slackening trade winds in the week preceding each mortality event, as well as surface water temperatures elevated 2–3°C higher than the background periods (March-December 2009). We posit that the lack of trade wind-driven surface water mixing enhanced surface heating and stratification of the water column, leading to hypoxic conditions and stress on fish populations, which had limited ability to move within net pen enclosures. Elevated water temperature and interruption of trade winds previously have been linked to the onset of El Niño in Hawaiʻi. Our results provide empirical evidence regarding El Niño effects on the coastal ocean, which can inform resource management efforts about potential impact of climate variation on aquaculture production. Finally, we provide recommendations for reducing the impact of warming events on fishponds, as these events are predicted to increase in magnitude and frequency as a consequence of global warming.

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