Super Typhoon Haiyan: Realities of a Warmed World and Need for Immediate Climate Action
It is with a heavy heart and a respectful hand that I write this. Super Typhoon Haiyan has only just passed, and the devastation cannot yet even be fully understood. With that in mind, please consider a donation to the Philippine Red Cross.
But that will only aid those impacted by this storm. Not the next. Or the one after that.
This was the feeling captured by Yeb Saño, the Philippine’s lead negotiator to this year’s United Nations Climate Talks (COP). As he tearfully pleaded with the delegation gathered in Warsaw, Poland, he powerfully pressed them for action and challenged those who stand it its way. He dared those still unconvinced by the need for climate action to do a little sightseeing, and take in the impacts of rising sea levels as they surge inland in front of storms, of melting glaciers as they flood the land they once nourished, of drought-induced famine as it destabilizes weak nations and of unprecedented hurricanes and typhoons that have pounded the U.S. and Asia alike.
For now, super storms are still rare. However, models suggest more frequent and intense storms in a warmed world. A number of scientists suspect that certain recent storms like Sandy and Haiyan exhibited characteristics outside the range of natural variation.
Although exact measurements are hard to come by (there were no flights in the Western Pacific to provide direct measurements) satellite images along with readings of ocean heat seem to suggest that Haiyan was an unnaturally powerful storm. The science is hinting that this storm may not have been so catastrophic in a world without warming.
The unusually deep, unusually warm pool of water that provided the initial fuel is unlikely to have existed in a world without warming. Global warming-induced sea level rise contributed to the 20-foot storm surges that caught victims off guard, much as it contributed to Sandy’s record 13-foot coastal surge that flooded substantial sections of New York and New Jersey. These events would not have been as severe in a world without warming.
But herein lies the crux—we no longer live in a world without warming. Given that 1985 was the last year with temperatures below the 20th century average, and 2000-2010 was the hottest decade on record, it has become impossible to say for certain that any given storm is free from the influence of our warmed world.
While contrarians may dislike it when activists or actors like George Clooney point out the linkage between climate change and extreme weather, the bottom line is this: climate change makes tropical storms more damaging. Not only through increased wind speed and rainfall, but most notably through rising sea levels. This means greater damage and loss of property and life.
There are those who suggest that it would be easier to simply retreat from the coasts that get battered by these storms. But I imagine many people would agree with Yeb Saño, who said:
"We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life, because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to."
Let that call echo, and be heard in response to those who would insist on waiting for the next storm to take action.
Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University and author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars", now out in paperback with a foreword by Bill Nye "The Science Guy."
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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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>
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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