PLOS ONE has always welcomed climate change research, notably partnering with James Hansen and colleagues to publish a PLOS Collection on Responding to Climate Change in 2013. Six years on, climate change remains a global problem and more than ever public access to original, peer-reviewed climate change research is crucial to address evidence gaps and misinformation regarding this important topic. As an Open Access journal, we continue to provide a venue for all climate change research and make it openly available to both the public and the scientific community.
As people around the world prepare to join the Global Climate Strike, PLOS ONE takes the opportunity to look at some recent work on climate change research published in the journal in the last few years. From studies highlighting the impacts of climate change on our environment and health to research on mitigating solutions, we showcase the variety of ongoing work in this important and multidisciplinary area.
Ecological and environmental impacts of climate change
Probably the best known impact of global warming is the melting of the Earth’s ice caps. Lagger and collaborators’ study provide evidence of some of the profound consequences of climate change for high latitude ecosystems. They show that extended glacier retreat in the Antarctic Peninsula, due to warming temperatures, is altering the composition of sea-bottom communities as a result of the apparition of novel ice-free habitats. The combination of ice-free areas and rising temperatures will result in the collapse of high arctic distinct ecosystems which will result in a global loss of biodiversity.
Rising ocean temperatures will result in changes in the distribution of marine species and ecosystems, changes that will have far reaching consequences throughout the food webs, having larger impacts for the species at the top. A recent investigation by Jones and colleagues suggested that elevated sea surface temperatures, by shifting fish availability, may be responsible for the starvation of thousands of Tufted Puffins in the North Pacific.
Consequences of climate change on humans
Under all forecasted future climate scenarios, one of the most important consequences for humans is its impact on food production, with the least developed nations predicted to be the most vulnerable. Crop yields are predicted to decrease globally as a result of raising temperatures. A recent paper by Ray and collaborators reveals that climate change has already affected global production of the ten largest crops, with most of the impacts in Europe, South Africa and Australia. In addition, climate change has increased the risk of food insecurity in many food insecure countries.
Climate change will also have direct consequences on human health. Changes in temperature and humidity will have an effect on the patterns of transmission of vector-borne diseases by expanding the range of distribution of its animal hosts. For example, Purse and collaborators recently published a modelling study suggesting that climate seasonality is the most important factor determining the incidence of leishmaniasis, an insect-transmitted parasite disease with 1.2 million annual cases currently in tropical America.
Sea level rise due to melting ice caps will also make current coastal areas uninhabitable and is predicted to lead to the displacement and resettlement of millions of people inland. The submerging of the current coastline will have incalculable consequences for human infrastructure but also irreplaceable impacts on historical heritage. The work by Anderson and his team predicts that thousands of historic and prehistoric archaeological sites will be underwater in the southeastern United States. Without decisive institutional action, cultural resources are at risk to be lost forever.
Involving the public in climate change discussions
It is evident that collective action across all sectors will be required in order to combat climate change. However, it is well documented that a “consensus gap” exists between scientific knowledge and public opinion. Fortunately, there is evidence that this gap is closing; in a recent study, Taciano Milfont and colleagues used the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study to track agreement to two key beliefs – “climate change is real” and “climate change is caused by humans” – over a six-year period. Their study showed that agreement to both beliefs has steadily increased over the 2009-2015 time frame.
Other work by Lawrence Hamilton and his team looked at US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change. Their work suggests that support for renewable energy and agreement with anthropogenic climate change are gradually rising, but also highlights generational and political gaps, with younger adults prioritizing renewable energy development.
How scientists engage with the public to discuss climate change is also important in terms of closing the consensus gap. However, climate data can be complex and communicating it to both expert and not-expert audiences can be challenging. In their recent paper, Jean-Francois Bastin and colleagues from ETH Zürich, produce city analogues as a way to illustrate complex climate data in tangible ways, for example climate data predicts that Madrid’s climate in 2050 will resemble Marrakech’s current climate.
Looking for solutions
Finding solutions to reverse, slow down and/or mitigate climate change will involve changes to all areas of our lives and prioritizing our focus will be important in finding solutions. In their study Griffith University researchers, Liam Wagner and colleagues, used a model to forecast global energy demand, highlighting areas of concern. Their work identified three main areas of concern including exponential increases of fossil fuel consumption if renewable energy systems are not rapidly scaled up and concerns regarding fuel security and global poverty.
Meeting the need for renewable energy is also not without challenges, in their research Juliane Weber and her colleagues investigate the challenges facing wind power generation. The high temporal variability in wind power generation means large backup and storage facilities are needed to supply power during periods of low energy generation. Using high-resolution climate projections they identify areas in Europe where back energy and storage will be needed to address longer periods of low wind energy generation.
Anderson DG, Bissett TG, Yerka SJ, Wells JJ, Kansa EC, Kansa SW, et al. (2017) Sea-level rise and archaeological site destruction: An example from the southeastern United States using DINAA (Digital Index of North American Archaeology). PLoS ONE 12(11): e0188142.
Bastin J-F, Clark E, Elliott T, Hart S, van den Hoogen J, Hordijk I, et al. (2019) Understanding climate change from a global analysis of city analogues. PLoS ONE 14(7): e0217592.
Hamilton LC, Hartter J, Bell E (2019) Generation gaps in US public opinion on renewable energy and climate change. PLoS ONE 14(7): e0217608.
Jones T, Divine LM, Renner H, Knowles S, Lefebvre KA, Burgess HK, et al. (2019) Unusual mortality of Tufted puffins (Fratercula cirrhata) in the eastern Bering Sea. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216532.
Lagger C, Servetto N, Torre L, Sahade R (2017) Benthic colonization in newly ice-free soft-bottom areas in an Antarctic fjord. PLoS ONE 12(11): e0186756.
Milfont TL, Wilson MS, Sibley CG (2017) The public’s belief in climate change and its human cause are increasing over time. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0174246.
Purse BV, Masante D, Golding N, Pigott D, Day JC, Ibañez-Bernal S, et al. (2017) How will climate change pathways and mitigation options alter incidence of vector-borne diseases? A framework for leishmaniasis in South and Meso-America. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0183583.
Ray DK, West PC, Clark M, Gerber JS, Prishchepov AV, Chatterjee S (2019) Climate change has likely already affected global food production. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0217148.
Wagner L, Ross I, Foster J, Hankamer B (2016) Trading Off Global Fuel Supply, CO2 Emissions and Sustainable Development. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0149406.
Weber J, Wohland J, Reyers M, Moemken J, Hoppe C, Pinto JG, et al. (2018) Impact of climate change on backup energy and storage needs in wind-dominated power systems in Europe. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0201457.
This blog post was written by Miquel Vall-llosera Camps and Nicola Stead.