Climate Change

Climate effect: Airborne pollen in United States may go up by 2050

Pollen season will start earlier and last longer throughout the US, simulations by researchers show

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 13 December 2022
Researchers have simulated the distribution of two leading allergens — oak (pictured here) and ragweed pollen — across the United States. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A new study has demonstrated how the distribution of allergenic pollen could shift in a warming world. 

Researchers with the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute have simulated the distribution of two leading allergens — oak and ragweed pollen — across the United States. The results have been published in the journal Frontiers in Allergy.

Read more: German scientists decode adhesive properties of pollen

Climate change will significantly increase airborne pollen loads by 2050, a team of researchers found using computer models. Some of the largest surges may occur in areas where pollen was historically uncommon, they said in a statement.

“Pollen is an excellent sentinel for the impacts of climate change because shifts in variables like carbon dioxide and temperature affect the way plants behave,” stated Panos Georgopoulos, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and Justice at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

At the same time, the production of pollen and its influence on allergic disease has been increasing due to climate change, he added. Previous efforts to connect pollen indices with climate change have been limited by a scarcity of data. 

The researchers adapted the Community Multiscale Air Quality modelling system, an open-source tool managed by the United States’ green regulatory body Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to overcome this challenge.

The tool was used to simulate distributions of allergenic oak and ragweed pollen for historical (2004) and future (2047) conditions. 

Read more: Delhi to start monitoring pollen pollution

Pollen season will start earlier and last longer throughout the US, even under moderate warming conditions, the results showed. Average pollen concentrations will increase in most parts of the nation. 

Mean concentrations of oak pollen could climb by more than 40 per cent in the Northeast and Southwest and mean concentrations of ragweed could jump by more than 20 per cent in these areas, the researchers further said.

The pollen research was part of an ongoing project by the Rutgers Ozone Research Center, funded by the EPA and the State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to study how climate change will influence air quality in the state.

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