Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

How Climate Change Could Increase Pollen Levels by 200%

Climate
How Climate Change Could Increase Pollen Levels by 200%

Scientists have identified a new hazard that will arrive as a result of climate change: a huge increase in hay fever and pollen allergies.

Christine Rogers, an environmental health scientist, added: “This is the first evidence that pollen production is significantly stimulated by elevated carbon dioxide in a grass species and has worldwide implications, due to the ubiquitous presence of grasses in all biomes and the high prevalence of grass pollen allergy.”
Photo credit: Shutterstock

A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, U.S., report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that as man-made carbon dioxide and low-level ozone levels rise, so will grass pollen production and allergen exposure—by up to 200 percent.

Many predictions of the problems of global warming are, in effect, simulations: researchers take a climate model, add a few parameters, identify a trend or isolate a possibility, and run it forward to see what happens. Using such techniques, researchers have predicted that heat extremes themselves will present health hazards, and have confirmed that cutting COemissions will certainly save lives.

Notorious irritant

But Jennifer Albertine and her colleagues at Amherst tried the other approach: they grew plants in laboratory conditions, using different atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and of ozone—the O3 version of oxygen (O2) that plays an important protective role in the stratosphere, but is a notorious irritant and health hazard in traffic-choked cities.

They selected for the experiment the grass Phleum pratense, widely known as Timothy grass and common in lawns, pasture and meadows everywhere. Then, at the appropriate moment, they bagged the flowers, captured and measured the pollen production, and used enzymes to get at an allergen protein called Phl p 5.

The news is not good for those who dread the start of the hay fever season in spring. As atmospheric CO2 doubled to 800 parts per million, there was a 53 percent increase in pollen production per grass flower.

But that was only part of the effect. A greater number of plants flowered as a result of the stimulus of the extra carbon dioxide, which has an effect on plant fertility. And that brought the increase in pollen levels to a startling 200 percent.

Allergen levels

The increases in low-level ozone—already widely predicted as a consequence of global warming—had no effect on the quantities of pollen produced, although it did tend to suppress the allergen levels in the pollen.

But since the effect of low-level ozone is to irritate the mucous membranes of gasping city-dwellers and actually make the allergic airway response even worse, this is not good. The researchers warn that ozone increases would bring on negative respiratory health effects quite independently on any rise in pollen counts.

“The implications of increasing CO2 production for human health are clear,” warned Dr Albertine.

Her co-author, Christine Rogers, an environmental health scientist, added: “This is the first evidence that pollen production is significantly stimulated by elevated carbon dioxide in a grass species and has worldwide implications, due to the ubiquitous presence of grasses in all biomes and the high prevalence of grass pollen allergy.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

How Global Warming Worsens Allergies

Watch Colbert Shame GOP Climate Deniers: ‘I am Not a Scientist’

Climate Denier-in-Chief Inhofe to Head Senate Environment Committee

A warming climate can lead to lake stratification, including toxic algal blooms. UpdogDesigns / Getty Images

By Ayesha Tandon

New research shows that lake "stratification periods" – a seasonal separation of water into layers – will last longer in a warmer climate.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A view of Lake Powell from Romana Mesa, Utah, on Sept. 8, 2018. DEA / S. AMANTINI / Contributor / Getty Images

By Robert Glennon

Interstate water disputes are as American as apple pie. States often think a neighboring state is using more than its fair share from a river, lake or aquifer that crosses borders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
Plugging and capping abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells in Central Appalachia could generate thousands of jobs. StushD80 / Getty Images

Plugging and capping abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells in Central Appalachia could generate thousands of jobs for the workers and region who stand to lose the most from the industry's inexorable decline.

Read More Show Less
Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less