Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Climate Change, “Up Close and Personal”

Remember the good old days when you only got the “spring sniffles” for a few weeks as the new leaves began sprouting on the trees?  And doesn’t it seem like now, for some reason, you’re taking your antihistamine almost as often as you take your multi-vitamin?  That’s not your imagination; that’s climate change at work.

A USDA scientist and his collaborators have proven that ragweed pollen in some parts of the northern United States and Canada now hangs around almost a month longer than it did as recently as 1995.  The researchers’ results show those increases are correlated to seasonal warming shifts linked to climate change dynamics in the higher latitudes.

The scientists identified at least 10 locations—along a north-south line from Austin, Texas, to Saskatoon, Canada—that had at least 15 years of pollen data, from 1995 to 2009.  The scientists compared the pollen data at each site to other data from the site, including latitude, the number of frost-free days, and delays in the onset of the first fall frost.

The news is enough to make your eyes water:  From 1995 to 2009, the number of frost-free days at the higher-latitude study sites increased, and so did the length of the ragweed pollen season.  In fact, by 2009, the pollen season was lasting anywhere from 13 days to 27 days longer than it had lasted in 1995.  Also, there was a strong correlation between the length of the pollen season and the onset of the first frost of fall.

One of the biggest challenges in studying climate change is finding out how the plant kingdom is adapting to those changes.  But the USDA scientist and his colleagues have reminded us that these changes don’t stop with crops—they also can have a significant impact on our health.

One Response to “Climate Change, “Up Close and Personal””

  1. K says:

    I’m inclined to believe our spring sniffles may have more to do with the lack of access to nutrient-dense healthy foods in this country. Instead of real food, our nation is consuming cheap, processed food-like substances made from government-subsidized, genetically modified corn, soy, etc. Spring sniffles, or allergies as they are commonly referred to, are a symptom of weak immune systems. Immune systems are weakened by unhealthy lifestyles and insufficient nutrients in the diet. While climate change is surely impacting seasonal changes, I’d be much more interested in a study to determine what the lack of good food and nutrition is having on our personal health particularly with regard to issues concerning the immune system like allergies that are profiting the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Leave a Reply