Puffy, itchy eyes; sinus headaches and a general sense of malaise hit many in Alaska’s largest city on Saturday as the dark side of global warming showed its face in a spring come early and warmly wonderful.
Two straight days with temperatures in the 70s — highly unusual for Anchorage — sent pollen exploding from the alders that blanket the Front Range Chugach Mountains above the city and the birch trees that dot the lowlands.
The Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, which tracks pollen counts reported 728 grains per meter of air — more than three times the count from earlier in the month when the local newspaper was warning “Alaska birch pollen is getting so bad, even those without allergies might suffer.”
And yes, atmospheric changes – global or otherwise – have been blamed.
“As you increase CO2 (carbon dioxide), it tells the allergenic plants to produce more pollen to the tune of three to four times more, and the pollen itself, we think, may actually be more potent,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told CNN in 2013.
Some allergists have been predicting a coming nightmare for people with allergies because of climate change.
If pollen levels are tied to atmospheric carbon dioxide – as Bassett and others contend – this might be a more realistic threat than global warming, predictions on which are still compounded by multiple variables.
Not so carbon dioxide. It has been documented as steadily rising for decades.
As a consequence, the planet has grown greener, as those in Alaska might have noticed more than others. Glaciers and once persistent snowfield have melted back to expose ground that now supports new grasses, shrubs and in some cases trees in the 49th state.
All this recent growth is no small thing.
“A new study says that if the extra green leaves prompted by rising CO2 levels were laid in a carpet, it would cover twice the continental USA,” the BBC reported only a month ago.
All that new greenery translates into a lot of new pollen when plants breed. And Alaska, as is often the case, seems to be at the forefront of the change.
“Birch pollen breaks record,” the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported on May 2. The pollen count of 4,290 was enough to make what was happening in Anchorage on Saturday seeming like almost nothing unless, of course, you were one of those who suffer from allergies.
Then the burning eyes sure seemed like something no matter how blessed mid-June-style weather in the middle of May.