Allergies, plant phenology, and climate change
Projects integrate data sets to show that earlier allergy symptoms coincide with earlier pollen release.
Flickr photo by gravitywave
As early as mid-December, volunteer observers have reported pollen outbreaks in the southern US as part of the National Phenology Network's Juniper Pollen Project.
And while some volunteers are reporting the development of pollen cones on Juniper trees, others are reporting on their allergy symptoms. Aerobiologist Dr. Estelle Levetin, at the University of Tulsa, invites those with known allergies to Juniper (also known as Mountain Cedar) to complete a symptom survey with their location, date, and severity of an allergy attack.
The integrations of such different volunteer observations allow researchers to understand the impacts of climate change on human health. Allergy seasons are closely tied to plants' growing seasons, and networks of volunteers around the world are showing that the growing season is changing due to changes in our climate.
Knowing what is blooming (or producing pollen) at any given time can also help doctors more precisely diagnose the causes of an individuals' allergies, perhaps better targeting treatment. In the Netherlands, researchers have even developed models for forecasting pollen outbreaks, based on data from the Nature's Calendar (Natuurkalender) Network. These models help doctors prescribe when allergy sufferers should start taking medication, and may even help them know as soon as it is safe to stop.
Read more about "Extreme Allergies and Global Warming" from the National Wildlife Federation
Read a short summary of a talk entitled, "The crucial role of citizen science in the monitoring of and adapting to climate change-induced health impacts" by Arnold Van Vliet of the Netherlands' Natuurkalender Network
Find more citizen science projects addressing climate change on this site