Saturday, March 17, 2018

Climates Change Faster in a Warmer and Wetter World

While more rain normally cools a summer environment, a warmer and wetter world could face quite unfamiliar problems.

Heat and moisture together can speed up climate change. (Image Credit: Mary Hollinger, NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
Climate change may still cause surprises, if simultaneously it means a warmer and wetter world.  More heat and moisture together can unbalance ecosystems.

Scientists have been warning for decades of shifts towards ever greater risks of flooding in some places, more intense and sustained droughts and potentially lethal heatwaves in others.

But new research suggests an unexpected twist: temperate and subtropical zones could become both hotter and wetter during future summers.

And this could create a whole suite of unexpected problems: farmers and city dwellers who have adapted to a pattern of cool wet summers or hot dry summers could face a new range of fungal or pest infections in crops, or pathogens in crowded communities, as insects and microbes seize a new set of opportunities.

Canadian scientists report in Nature Communications that they considered what they call “departures from natural variability” that may follow as a consequence of continual rises in global average temperature, driven by ever greater combustion of fossil fuels that emit ever higher ratios of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

They studied historical records back to 1901, and climate projections as far as the year 2100.  And they see a problem:  creatures – people, crops, pathogens and pests – that have adapted to particular regional ecosystems could be jolted out of their comfort zone.

“Some of the disruptions of climate change stem from basic physics and are easily anticipated.  Increases in sea level, forest fires, heat waves, and droughts fall into that category.

“But there is a whole other category of unexpected disruptions that stem from upsetting the complex balance of ecosystems,” said Colin Mahony, a forester and doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, who led the research.

A global increase in outbreaks of fungal needle blight in pine plantations could be linked to wetter and warmer conditions.  Mosquito-borne pathogens could flourish in hot cities with once rare puddles of standing water.

Read more at Climates Change Faster in a Warmer and Wetter World

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