Europe’s Cities Face a Hotter Century
By Tim Radford
Europe's cities are about to bake. The worst-case scenario for ever-hotter temperatures now suggests that later this century the Austrian city of Innsbruck—for example—could be subjected to heatwaves 14°C hotter than any in the past.
And some of Europe's rivers could experience peak flows 80 percent higher than any today, which means ever-greater flood hazards, in particular for north-west European cities.
Three Europeans out of four live in cities. By 2050, this proportion will be even higher: 82 percent will have moved to urban centers.
Researchers report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they examined the trends for all 571 cities in Europe's urban audit database and simulated the outcome of a range of climate predictions.
They found that, as humans burn ever more fossil fuels to release ever higher levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to stoke yet further global warming and trigger catastrophic climate change, all 571 cities will experience ever greater heatwaves: that is, three consecutive days and nights at which temperatures are about as high as they have ever been for that city.
In a best-case scenario—one in which nations switch to renewable energy sources—the highest increases in temperature extremes could be between 2°C and 7°C: the Finnish city of Helsinki can expect to see heatwaves of perhaps 1.5°C.
In the worst instance, temperatures over the Gulf of Finland could reach 8°C higher than any ever recorded and others—Innsbruck is cited as an example—could stifle in summer heatwaves 14°C hotter than any in the past.
Heat is a killer: an extended heatwave in 2003 claimed 70,000 lives in western Europe. In 2010 a heatwave in eastern Europe and Russia is estimated to have caused 55,000 extra deaths. But with extremes of heat, there will also be extremes of rainfall. Between 1998 and 2009, floods in Europe claimed 1,126 deaths and cost at least €52 billion (£46bn) in insured losses. More rain is on the way in north-western Europe, where 85 percent of UK cities with a river are expected to face more flooding, even in the most hopeful outcome.
Drought could be even more devastating in southern Europe: In the best circumstances, droughts in the southern Iberian peninsula will be twice as severe as they were in the last half of the last century.
In the worst case, 98 percent of European cities could see damaging droughts, while in southern Europe, droughts could be 14 times more severe than now.
"Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point," said Selma Guerreiro, of the University of Newcastle, who led the research.
"Furthermore, most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks."
None of this should be of any great surprise to either climate scientists or European city chiefs. Over recent years, teams of researchers have issued general European warnings of rain and heat extremes, and of shorter winters, earlier and more severe floods and greater risks to life and property.
Researchers have also looked at the detailed forecasts for individual cities: They know that higher sea levels impose higher risks of flooding and that extremes of weather offer greater dangers. They have even calculated the potential costs for Europe's seaside cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.
What distinguishes the latest study is the detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario—Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain—and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga, for instance, and Almeria in Spain.
Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.
Lisbon and Madrid lead the league table of capital cities for increases in frequency and magnitude of droughts. Athens, Nicosia, Valletta and Sofia could be the European capital cities most at risk from both heat extremes and drought.
"The research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions," said Richard Dawson, a co-author, and professor of earth systems engineering at Newcastle University.
"We are already seeing at first hand the implications of extreme weather events in our capital cities. In Paris the Seine rose more than 4 meters above its normal water level.
"And as Cape Town prepares for its taps to run dry, this analysis highlights that such climate events are feasible in European cities too."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
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