NASA Scientists: Do You See Change? If So, Share It
By Loretta Williams
In January, Judy Donnelly noticed that maple syrup collection was starting much earlier than usual near her Connecticut home. "I've noticed tubing being strung to collect maple sap in neighboring towns," she wrote. "This doesn't usually happen until mid-February."
Like others who post observations to iSeeChange.org, Donnelly is aware of changes in the weather and climate in her area. "I've lived in eastern Connecticut for 40 years and have noticed changes in the blooming time for plants; for example dogwoods are blooming about two weeks earlier than they did in the late 70's. My daughter mentioned the website to me and I thought it was a good way to track what I see."
Seeing the bigger picture of climate change in the details of daily life is why Julia Kumari Drapkin started iSeeChange as a public media project in 2012. Drapkin had recently moved from Washington, DC, where she was a science reporter, to work at the local radio station in the tiny rural community of Paonia, Colorado. She realized that journalists were coming at climate change reporting all wrong. If the public was to ever get engaged on the subject, someone should be listening—not just to scientists—but to regular people who had valuable knowledge and experience of how their local weather patterns might be changing.
Hotchkiss Fire Protection District takes on a run-of-the-mill uncontrolled control burn in April.
She started by asking farmers, ranchers and gardeners to send her their questions about weather and climate. And it was a weird year for both: the U.S. experienced its earliest spring ever and the front range of Colorado was hit hard by drought. People sold their cattle because there wasn't enough hay to feed them. Wildfires broke out so early that the local fire teams were putting them out in the snow.
Citizens would send in their questions and Drapkin would find scientists to answer them on the air. "Sometimes the answer wasn't what anyone wanted to hear," said Drapkin. "Climate change is a touchy subject for many people, especially in communities like the North Fork Valley of Colorado that depend on both ranching and coal mining." The key was to find a balance between what people noticed and a useful explanation of what was going on with the weather." Not every weird weather event is connected to climate change, Drapkin noted, "but every change sighting helps us create a baseline for knowing when there is something significant. The goal has always been to give scientific context to people's questions and add to their own knowledge of the area."
Current and projected maple tree distribution according to U.S. Department of Agriculture maps.USDA Climate Change Atlas / Range Maps for Acer Saccharum
As the questions rolled in, Drapkin hit upon the idea of an online community almanac to keep track of what was happening, especially as people started bringing out their own journals, noting weather conditions going back decades.
"People are experts in their own backyards," said Drapkin. "I started to see that it was possible to investigate climate and weather issues on a bigger scale if all these individual observations could be gathered in one place."
"June Gloom" in Sierra Madre, California.
Fast-forward to 2016. Today, iSeeChange fields observations and questions from around the country and as far away as Africa. Molly Peterson, an environmental reporter based in Los Angeles, comments on posts and writes stories and a biweekly newsletter for the website.
Even in the absence of extreme events, people have questions about the weather. "My favorite question so far is from Robin White in Oakland, California, who runs a landscape crew," said Peterson. He thought he noticed that it seems to rain more on the weekend and wanted to know if that was true. Peterson looked at a few studies and discovered that White's question has an interesting answer. "Scientists know that ozone can induce rain formation and in the San Francisco area ozone can be as much as 25 percent higher on weekends," said Peterson. "But it's tricky, because it's impossible to say whether there's enough ozone buildup to cause rain on any particular weekend. There are so many other factors involved. The short answer to Robin is, 'probably, but it depends.'"
Flooding in Kigali, Rwanda.
To sort out the differences between weather shifts and climate change, iSeeChange has partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission, which tracks changes in carbon dioxide from satellites in space. The two organizations recently collaborated on a mobile app—the iSeeChange Tracker—that can help NASA scientists compare satellite data to what people are seeing on the ground. "We are asking the public to help us look into specific issues such as heat islands or help count urban trees." said Drapkin. "The effects of heat and the quantity and health of trees have a direct relationship to carbon dioxide and the people's health. The more people flag what's happening, the better we'll be able to adapt our policies and infrastructure to deal with it." Drapkin said.
As for Judy Donnelly's observation that maple tree sap seemed to be rising early? She was right. Given the mild winter that wasn't too surprising, said Peterson. But when Peterson put in a few calls to maple syrup producers she found out something few of us stop to consider. "Apparently changes in the weather can affect the taste, quality or quantity of maple syrup, but that's not obvious until the maple syrup producers are finished bottling and canning for the season."
"Beautiful March day on the shores of Lake Superior, temperature around 50. The sky was almost completely clear. Unseasonably nice for March 11th! Notice that there is no snow or ice on the lake!"
This is the kind of insight that comes from looking for changes in the environment. We learn that what we see one day can resonate months, even years, later. Now researchers are studying the timing of sap rise, to determine whether maple trees will eventually only be able to thrive in higher latitudes.
So the next time you pour maple syrup on your pancakes, think about this: Did your pay more for that bottle of syrup this year? When you lift the fork to your mouth, ask yourself: was it a good year or a bad year for those who make their living tapping trees?
We don't yet know what our changing climate might do to sugar maples and many other things that are part of our daily lives, but we can all keep an eye out for change.
Loretta Williams is an award-winning public media producer (NPR, Marketplace, SoundVision Production) working on stories that range from wildlife conflict to cochlear implants to the mysteries and promise of genetic science. Her most recent work can be seen at ISeeChange.org a climate change journalism project that connects citizen observations to science driven data.
This post was produced as part of the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, with support from The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation.
In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Andrew Rosenberg
The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.
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