Climate Change

Climate 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.

Ullah H, Nagelkerken I, Goldenberg SU, Fordham DA. Climate change could drive marine food web collapse through altered trophic flows and cyanobacterial proliferation . PLoS Biology [Internet]. 2018. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global warming and ocean acidification are forecast to exert significant impacts on marine ecosystems worldwide. However, most of these projections are based on ecological proxies or experiments on single species or simplified food webs. How energy fluxes are likely to change in marine food webs in response to future climates remains unclear, hampering forecasts of ecosystem functioning. Using a sophisticated mesocosm experiment, we model energy flows through a species-rich multilevel food web, with live habitats, natural abiotic variability, and the potential for intra- and intergenerational adaptation. We show experimentally that the combined stress of acidification and warming reduced energy flows from the first trophic level (primary producers and detritus) to the second (herbivores), and from the second to the third trophic level (carnivores). Warming in isolation also reduced the energy flow from herbivores to carnivores, the efficiency of energy transfer from primary producers and detritus to herbivores and detritivores, and the living biomass of detritivores, herbivores, and carnivores. Whilst warming and acidification jointly boosted primary producer biomass through an expansion of cyanobacteria, this biomass was converted to detritus rather than to biomass at higher trophic levels—i.e., production was constrained to the base of the food web. In contrast, ocean acidification affected the food web positively by enhancing trophic flow from detritus and primary producers to herbivores, and by increasing the biomass of carnivores. Our results show how future climate change can potentially weaken marine food webs through reduced energy flow to higher trophic levels and a shift towards a more detritus-based system, leading to food web simplification and altered producer–consumer dynamics, both of which have important implications for the structuring of benthic communities.

Hughes TP, Anderson KD, Connolly SR, Heron SF, Kerry JT, Lough JM, Baird AH, Baum JK, Berumen ML, Bridge TC, et al. Spatial and temporal patterns of mass bleaching of corals in the Anthropocene . Science [Internet]. 2018; 359 (6371) :80-83. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Tropical reef systems are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages. We analyzed bleaching records at 100 globally distributed reef locations from 1980 to 2016. The median return time between pairs of severe bleaching events has diminished steadily since 1980 and is now only 6 years. As global warming has progressed, tropical sea surface temperatures are warmer now during current La Niña conditions than they were during El Niño events three decades ago. Consequently, as we transition to the Anthropocene, coral bleaching is occurring more frequently in all El Niño–Southern Oscillation phases, increasing the likelihood of annual bleaching in the coming decades.

Coffel ED, Horton RM, De Sherbinin A. Temperature and humidity based projections of a rapid rise in global heat stress exposure during the 21st century . Environmental Research Letters [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

As a result of global increases in both temperature and specific humidity, heat stress is projected to intensify throughout the 21st century. Some of the regions most susceptible to dangerous heat and humidity combinations are also among the most densely populated. Consequently, there is the potential for widespread exposure to wet bulb temperatures that approach and in some cases exceed postulated theoretical limits of human tolerance by mid- to late-century. We project that by 2080 the relative frequency of present-day extreme wet bulb temperature events could rise by a factor of 100–250 (approximately double the frequency change projected for temperature alone) in the tropics and parts of the mid-latitudes, areas which are projected to contain approximately half the world's population. In addition, population exposure to wet bulb temperatures that exceed recent deadly heat waves may increase by a factor of five to ten, with 150–750 million person-days of exposure to wet bulb temperatures above those seen in today's most severe heat waves by 2070–2080. Under RCP 8.5, exposure to wet bulb temperatures above 35 °C—the theoretical limit for human tolerance—could exceed a million person-days per year by 2080. Limiting emissions to follow RCP 4.5 entirely eliminates exposure to that extreme threshold. Some of the most affected regions, especially Northeast India and coastal West Africa, currently have scarce cooling infrastructure, relatively low adaptive capacity, and rapidly growing populations. In the coming decades heat stress may prove to be one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.

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).

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