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How Climate Change Could Increase Pollen Levels by 200 Percent

November 12, 2014 in Blogs

By Tim Radford, Climate News Network

Global warming will cause a huge increase in hay fever and pollen allergies.


A team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, U.S., report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that as manmade carbon dioxide and low-level ozone levels rise, so will grass pollen production and allergen exposure, by up to 200 percent.

Many predictions of the problems of global warming are, in effect, simulations: researchers take a climate model, add a few parameters, identify a trend or isolate a possibility, and run it forward to see what happens. Using such techniques, researchers have predicted that heat extremes themselves will present health hazards, and have confirmed that cutting CO2 emissions will certainly save lives.

Notorious Irritant

But Jennifer Albertine and her colleagues at Amherst tried the other approach: they grew plants in laboratory conditions, using different atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and of ozone—the O3 version of oxygen (O2) that plays an important protective role in the stratosphere, but is a notorious irritant and health hazard in traffic-choked cities.

For the experiment they selected the grass Phleum pratense, widely known as Timothy grass and common in lawns, pasture and meadows everywhere. Then, at the appropriate moment, they bagged the flowers, captured and measured the pollen production, and used enzymes to get at an allergen protein called Phl p 5.

The news is not good for those who dread the start of hay fever season in spring. As atmospheric CO2 doubled to 800 parts per million, there was a 53 percent increase in pollen production per grass flower.

But that was only part of the effect. A greater number of plants flowered as a result of the stimulus of the extra carbon dioxide, which has an effect on plant fertility. And that brought the increase in pollen levels to a startling 200 percent.

Allergen Levels

The increases in low-level ozone—already widely predicted as …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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