Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If you thought this year's flu season was bad, wait until climate change gets through with it

Time to combine two threats, a short-term one and a long-term one.  I'll start with the short-term danger, this year's flu epidemic.  I've already said I'm glad I got my flu shot this year.  Now it's time for Discovery News to explain why and how flu shots are made in Don't Fear the Flu Shot.

If the influenza virus changes each year, does the flu shot even work? And what is the flu vaccine anyway? Trace explains.
Next, the long-term problem, climate change.

I've already posted about how 2012 was the warmest year on record for contiguous U.S.  In case you missed that post, here's what the Los Angeles Times wrote about the event in 2012 was hottest year on record for Lower 48 states by Neela Banerjee.
The average temperature was 3.3 degrees higher than in the 20th century, NOAA says, bolstering indications that global warming is linked to extreme weather events.

Last year was the hottest year on record for the contiguous 48 states, marked by near-record numbers of extreme weather events such as drought, wildfire, tornadoes and storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In its annual report, State of the Climate, NOAA reported that the average annual temperature was 55.3 degrees — 3.3 degrees greater than the average temperature for the 20th century. It was also a full degree higher than the previous record-high temperature, set in 1998 — the biggest margin between two record-high temperatures to date.

The report confirmed what many Americans may have suspected over the last year: that extreme weather events are becoming more common. The only year when there were more extreme weather events was 1998, largely because a greater number of tropical cyclones made landfall, NOAA researchers said.
It doesn't stop there.  From Reuters via Scientific American comes the news that 2012 was among 10 warmest years in global record: NASA/NOAA by Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko.
January 16, 2013
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Last year was among the top 10 warmest in the modern global record, two U.S. climate-watching agencies reported on Tuesday, less than a week after 2012 was declared the hottest ever in the contiguous United States.

The U.S. space agency NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration jointly issued two reports on 2012 world temperatures. NASA ranked last year the ninth-warmest since record-keeping began in 1880, while NOAA found last year was the tenth-warmest.

The difference in the two rankings may be due to NASA's extrapolation of temperatures in areas with no weather stations, particularly near the poles, according to James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The 2012 global surface temperature, including land and water, was 1 degree F (.56 degree C) warmer than the 1951-1980 average. That was enough to increase extreme high temperatures last year, Hansen reported.
That's the present.  Follow over the jump for what Neela Banerjee of the L.A. Times describes what may be in store for us in the future, along with how Accuweather's explanation of the connection between climate change and the flu.

Climate assessment delivers a grim overview
A draft version of a national report details the accelerated effects of climate change across the U.S., describing battered coastlines, devastating rainfall and drought.
January 11, 2013, 5:43 p.m.
WASHINGTON — The impacts of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a federal advisory committee.

The draft Third National Climate Assessment, issued every four years, delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the report says. "Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer."
The direct effects of climate won't be even half the problem.  There will also be increased circulation of mercury in aquatic environments and increased severity and range of Dengue Fever, which I wrote about here.  That leads me back to the flu.  Is it possible that climate change can make the flu worse?  Yes, it is, as Accuweather reports in Risk of Avian Influenza Increase Due to Changing Climate.

Two researchers from the University of Michigan have found the transmissions of avian influenza could increase due to a changing climate. Valerie Smock has the details.
Looks like getting our flu shots will be a good idea for the foreseeable future.  Also hope that Obama is successful in leading the country in fighting climate change.

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