Impacts

Wildlife

It is predicted that 15-37% of current plant and animal species will become extinct by 2050 and 50% by 2100.[1]

Species: “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding” – Oxford Dictionary

Birds

Source: Yrjö Jyske

Climate change is causing mismatches with migration and reproduction with the availability of food and that the further the bird migrates the more likely it is to be unsynchronised with availability of food[2]. This is leading to declining population sizes of long-distance migratory birds[3] due to the lack of food available so much so that bird populations that are reliant of insects for food have decreased by 13%.[4]

It has been proposed that smaller birds may cope better with the heat as they are able to lose body heat more quickly. A study of 52 species even discovered that bird’s wingspans are increasing, and their body mass are decreasing, suggesting it may be in response to increasing temperatures caused by climate change.[5]

Migration: “Seasonal movement of animals from one region to another” – Oxford Dictionary

Insects

Source: Stéphane Gonzalez

As the climate warms aphids’ reproductive rate will increase increasing the aphid damage to trees. Aphids can weaken plants and cause their growth to be stunted and their leaves to be distorted and coat leaves and fruit in honeydew which can attract ants and honeybees. As temperatures increase trees are more likely to experience drought stress which make them more susceptible to aphid infestation and bark beetle damage. Forest management may introduce new tree species as a response to global warming which could lead to the introduction of more pests.[6]

Source: Raffo Márk

The amount of butterfly species on farmed land between 2000 and 2009 in England has also decreased by 58%. This is thought to be caused by pesticide use in farming. Many of the pesticides are now banned.[7]

Drought: “A prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water” – Oxford Dictionary

Bees

Source: Richard Towell

Bumblebees are more suited to cold weather and the increase in temperature caused by climate change is leading to a population decrease as local extinction rates increase. This impacts on the environment as bees pollinate many species of flowering plants allowing the plants to reproduce and may cause a reduction in biodiversity with the bee population declining.[8]

Biodiversity: “The variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat” – Oxford Dictionary

Polar Bears

Source: Christopher Michel

Climate change is causing the Artic Sea ice to melt which is harmful to polar bears which depend on the sea ice for mating, moving around and hunting seals. This has caused many polar bears to become food deprived as their preferred hunting habitat is become smaller. This has led to declines in their population and could lead to further issues such as starvation and reproductive failure if the ice continues to disappear. Further information on the impacts on the cryosphere can be found on the research page.[9]

Habitat: “The natural home or environment of an animal” – Oxford Dictionary

Flowering Plants

Source: Aberystwyth University

Climate change is altering when plants flower, which can have a major impact on their seed production and their survival. Changes to their flowering times can greatly impact their reproduction success as pollinators, such as bees, may no longer be flying at that time of the year.[10]

Pollinator: “Something that carries pollen from one plant to another” – Cambridge Dictionary

Rivers and Oceans

Rivers

Source: Paul Trafford

As temperatures increase, shallow river and lake surfaces will become inhabitable for cold water fish. In deep lakes a warmer upper layer can create dead zones (areas that are unable to support life as they lack oxygen) as air exchange which adds oxygen to the water is less efficient. Increased rainfall could affect reproduction of species[11]. Salmon populations have declined due to eggs laid on stream beds being washed away by spring floods. Warmer temperatures have impacted on low stream flow as it begins earlier and lasts longer, causing stress to aquatic animals and plants, as rates of survival are much lower when water levels in rivers and streams are very low.[12]

Reduced water flow results in areas of high concentrated pollution as less dilution is taking place and an increase in nutrient levels in rivers is increasing the algae in rivers making it more expensive to produce drinking water. Climate change means more intense rainfall is likely which leads to increased frequency of flooding events. This increases the likelihood of rivers becoming contaminated in countries where sanitation infrastructure is not adequate and can cause disease outbreaks. It can also result in silting from more sediment entering rivers which could harm aquatic life.[13]

Sanitation: “Conditions relating to public health, especially the provision of clean drinking water and adequate sewage disposal” – Oxford Dictionary

Oceans

Source: Aberystwyth University

As global warming is increasing water temperatures marine life is moving to find cooler waters, but at different paces which is causing disruptions to the food web, making it more important not to overfish[14]. Blacktip sharks are migrating further north in summer to find cooler water[15]. In certain areas blue crabs are no longer having to burrow in the winter to survive the cold, causing their population to increase which may attract predators to new areas[16].

Acidic water

Dead zones (areas that are unable to support life as they lack oxygen) are becoming more present in oceans and seas due to human activity increasing the number of pollutants and toxins entering the water[17]. Human activity is increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when is then absorbed into the ocean changing its pH (Ocean acidification). This can have devastating effects such as coral bleaching and can also damage calcifying organisms as the acidification causes them to dissolve[18].

pH: “ A figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale” – Oxford Dictionary

Sea level rise

Global warming is heating the water around the glaciers causing them to melt, so more water from the glaciers enters the sea. The water then expands and warms raising the average sea level[19]. On Earth the average sea level has increased between 10 and 20 cm in the past century. This could put many coastal areas or areas at or below sea level at risk of flooding.[20]

Humans

Source: Amy West

We are already experiencing climate change now. It was 0.8°C warmer in the 2010s than 1961 to 1990[21]. There were less than 100 forest fires in 2011-2017, but 137 in 2019 alone[22]. A record high temperature of 38.7°C was recorded in July 2019 and the longest ever heatwave in August 2020[23]. Four other monthly temperature records were broken in the last ten years but the were no monthly record low temperatures since 1995[24]. Snow days are getting less common, halving in some parts of Europe since 1970, and are on track to disappear in almost all of Britain by 2070. These changes will continue until we reach net zero emissions[25].

Effect of temperature increase

Excessive heat causes health issues such as heat stroke and dehydration. Certain people more vulnerable to heat related health issues due to age, circumstance, and medical conditions. According to a study it is believed that temperature increase will affect populations at higher latitudes which are not used to extreme heat. It is also predicted that as temperatures continue to rise poorer areas will be more effected as they are less likely to have access to facilities such as air-conditioning.[26]

Heat waves affect urban populations more, causing higher death rates in these areas. Some come with periods of stagnant air increasing air pollution and health effects associated with air pollution.[27]

Effect of Air quality

Source: sama093

Varying weather caused by climate change can increase the frequency of unhealthy levels of smog and of wildfires which release smoke and particulates into the air. This puts people with respiratory issues, such as asthma, at higher risk of hospital admissions. As the number of days with poor air quality is predicted to increase it is predicted that more people will develop respiratory issues.[28]

Allergies

Source: Aberystwyth University

As flowers are pollinating earlier and for longer people with hay fever could be more affected.[29]

Extreme weather events

Source: Project LM
Source: Cheltenham Borough Council

Extreme weather events could cause a range of problems such as:

  • Increasing how quickly certain diseases spread.[30]
  • Reducing availability of safe drinking water during droughts.
  • Preventing travel due to damaged roads which could also affect access to hospitals.
  • Cause power outages, hindering transport, hospitals, and daily life.
  • Effect crop production leading to food shortages and malnutrition, especially in developing countries.

These problems could have a knock-on effect on trade, migration, and the mental health of the world’s population. Emergency evacuations may need to occur for extreme weather events which would be harder for individuals of certain ages or with certain medical conditions[31]. Stephen Tooth teaches about environmental issues in the department of Geography and Earth Sciences and has information about flash floods which can be found on the research page.

Malnutrition: “lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough to eat, not eating enough of the right things, or being unable to use the food that one does eat” – Oxford Dictionary

Agriculture

In the UK agriculture supplies 50% of the food consumed[32] and takes up 75% of the land area[33]. Climate change is expected to have a big impact on agriculture as it is an industry highly shaped by climate and weather conditions[34]. Climate change could affect the productivity of this industry and the UK’s role in agriculture internationally[35].

Crops

Source: Kinshuk Sunil

Rising temperatures and carbon dioxide concentration can affect plant reproduction and growth and have already had an impact on crop yields which have declined in the last 50 years. Even though carbon dioxide increases plant growth, the lack of rainfall in the summer months is causing many crops less viable for commercial use. Extreme weather conditions have also impacted on the growth and development of many crops[36] and can have an indirect impact on agriculture as land could and has been lost to flooding[37].

Livestock

Source: Aberystwyth University

In the UK livestock is worth more in value than crops[38]. Climate change can have a negative impact on livestock as they can experience heat stress which can affect milk production[39], fertility[40], and the welfare of livestock[41]. Extreme temperature events may also result in, increased water use, energy use, and increase risk of disease[42], which can pose problems regarding animal welfare and disease spread during the transportation of livestock[43].

Aberystwyth

Source: Iwan Davies
Source: Stephanie. Burgess97

You can see some of the effects caused by global warming in Aberystwyth. For example, in the summer of 2021 there was a heatwave which caused the sand dunes in Borth to catch fire[44] and an arctic walrus was spotted of the coast of Pembrokeshire which some say is an unusual sighting and may be linked to climate change[45]. BBC news has also recently released an article highlighting the concerns about rising sea levels and what affect that might have on Aberystwyth and Dyfi estuary[46].

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