Oak and ragweed pollens are two of the most prevalent allergens in the contiguous United States. Models were developed by scientists at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute to predict how these two pollen distribution patterns would vary due to climate change. Reading the findings, which were published in the journal Frontiers in Allergy, can make your eyes wet.
According to a study lead by Panos Georgopoulos, professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and Justice at the Rutgers School of Public Health, airborne pollen loads would considerably rise as a result of climate change by 2050. Where pollen has historically been limited, some of the highest increases will take place.
“Pollen is an excellent sentinel for the impacts of climate change because shifts in variables like carbon dioxide and temperature affect the way plants behave,” said Georgopoulos, who also is director of the Computational Chemodynamics Laboratory at Rutgers and faculty at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “At the same time, the production of pollen and pollen’s influence on allergic disease has been increasing due to climate change, and this is one of few studies to forecast this trend into the future.”
Lack of information has hindered earlier attempts to link pollen indices with climate change. For instance, there are roughly 80 pollen collection stations in the United States that are run by a range of public and commercial organisations and employ various sample techniques.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) manages the Community Multiscale Air Quality modelling system, an open-source programme, which the researchers modified to forecast the distributions of allergenic oak and ragweed pollen under past (2004) and future (2047) circumstances.
The findings indicated that even under conditions of mild warming, the pollen season will begin earlier and remain longer across the United States, with rising average pollen concentrations across the majority of the country.
In the Northeast and Southwest, mean ragweed pollen concentrations might increase by more than 20%, while mean oak pollen concentrations could rise by more than 40%. Shifts in regional pollen were also noted. By the middle of the century, oak pollen levels might quadruple in regions of Nevada and northern Texas, while ragweed pollen levels in Massachusetts and Virginia could rise by 80% by 2050.
The Rutgers Ozone Research Center is now working on a project to examine how climate change may affect the state’s air quality. The initiative is financed by the EPA and New Jersey. The bulk of that work examines the state’s struggles with ground-level ozone, a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion that can damage the lungs.
“New Jersey’s air quality is going to be adversely impacted by climate change, both in terms of anthropogenic pollution and increased levels of pollen,” Georgopoulos said. “For people with asthma, exposure to pollen and irritants like ozone increases the odds of respiratory illness. To protect the most vulnerable, we need to understand how these irritants will behave in a warming world.”