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Could Climate Change Mean the End of the Seasons?

Oct 09, 2014 03:45 PM EDT

As climate change causes winters to warm, the world becomes more and more like a tropical paradise, possibly meaning the end of the seasons as we know them, according to new research.

The daily and nightly differences in temperatures worldwide are fast approaching yearly differences between summer and winter temperatures, which could wreak havoc on the global ecology by potentially affect crops, insects, malaria transmission, and even confuse migration patterns of birds and mammals worldwide.

When scientists study climate change, they mostly focus on the change in global average temperature, but neglect to explore how temperature variability has altered with climate change. It is well known that warming temperatures will cause rising oceans and increased flooding, especially in coastal regions such as those in the United States, but what do varying temperatures mean for the changing seasons?

"We describe, for the first time, changes in temperature variability across the globe. We've had a long discussion about changes in the mean temperature. It has been ongoing for over 30 years," lead study author George Wang, postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Germany, said in a statement. "It's very clear mean temperatures have shifted across the globe. It's less clear if the variation in temperature has changed."

Described in the journal Nature Climate Change, Wang and co-author Michael Dillon, with the University of Wyoming, analyzed more than one billion temperature measurements from 7,906 weather stations with data from 1926 to 2009. Monthly and yearly averages of daily temperature extremes revealed that since 1950, minimum and maximum daily and average temperatures are increasing, meaning what we experience over a few days is now more like temperatures we experience over a year.

This could be potentially alter the ecological impact of seasons. For example, the variability in temperature could potentially mean bugs survive for a longer period in non-tropical regions. The result could be increased crop damage from pest insects or spread of diseases, such as malaria transmitted by mosquitoes.

Also, plants in temperature regions rely on the changing seasons to know when to produce flowers and fruits. With temperatures becoming less variable, it becomes harder for plants to behave appropriately to the season, to the point that eventually they might not produce some fruits at all.

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