Rising temperatures and increased CO2 will cause trees, grasses and weeds to produce more pollen

According to a new study from the University of Michigan, allergy seasons are expected to lengthen and intensify due to rising temperatures caused by human-induced climate change.

By the end of this century, pollen emissions could start 40 days earlier in the spring than what we saw between 1995 and 2014. Allergy sufferers could see this season last another 19 days before high pollen levels do not decrease.

In addition, thanks to rising temperatures and increased CO2 levels, the annual amount of pollen emitted each year could increase by up to 200%.

“Pollen-induced respiratory allergies are getting worse with climate change,” said Yingxiao Zhang, a UM graduate student research assistant in climate and space science and engineering and first author of the paper in Nature Communication. “Our findings may be a starting point for further investigations into the consequences of climate change on pollen and the corresponding health effects.”

UM researchers have developed a predictive model that examines 15 of the most common types of pollen and how their production will be affected by projected changes in temperature and precipitation. They combined climate data with socio-economic scenarios, correlating their modeling with data from 1995 to 2014. They then used their model to predict pollen emissions for the last two decades of the 21st century.

Allergy symptoms run the gamut from mild irritants, such as watery eyes, sneezing, or rashes, to more serious conditions, such as difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 30% of adults and 40% of children suffer from allergies in the United States.

Grasses, weeds and trees that produce pollen are affected by climate change. Rising temperatures cause them to activate earlier than their historical norms. Warmer temperatures can also increase the amount of pollen produced.

Allison Steiner, professor of climate and space science and engineering at UM, said the modeling developed by her team could eventually enable allergy season predictions targeted to different geographic regions.

“We hope to include our pollen emissions model in a national air quality forecasting system to provide the public with improved, climate-sensitive forecasts,” she said.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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Material provided by University of Michigan. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Teresa H. Sadler