You may be preparing yourself for rising sea levels and more extreme weather events, but as part of our Climate Week blog series, here are four peculiar effects of climate change you may not have anticipated…
More Pizzly Bears
Although Pizzly (or Grolar) bears – that is, Grizzly-Polar bear hybrids – have occasionally been bred in captivity, their existence in the wild was first proved in 2006 following DNA testing of a bear shot in the Canadian Arctic.
Polar and Grizzly bears would not normally share breeding habitats, but biologists from the American Museum of Natural History have recently reported Grizzlies moving into what was traditionally Polar bear territory, while an article in Nature has suggested that retracting Arctic sea ice may force Polar bears to migrate into Grizzly terrain., And that might mean more Pizzlies. Or (if you take a glass-half-empty kind of view) the added threat of hybridisation to the already endangered Polar bear.
What is more, there is some historical precedent here: by DNA testing the remains of extinct Brown bears found in Ireland, palaeogeneticists have shown that modern Polar bears are in fact descended from Irish forebears. It is thought that the two species may have interbred at various points during the past 100,000 years as climate change affected the range of Polar bear habitats.
The Resurrection of Primitive Diseases
An article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that a giant primitive virus (giant by virus standards, anyway) has been revived after being released from the Siberian permafrost.
The pathogen Pithovirus sibericum is believed to have been dormant for 30,000 years, but after being retrieved from 30 metres deep in the permafrost it has been revived in laboratory conditions. Although this virus is not itself harmful to humans, the research suggests that as global warming continues to thaw the permafrost other unknown primitive diseases, or those thought to have been eradicated, may re-emerge to pose a threat to human and animal populations.
It may sound like the start of a sci-fi horror movie but some scientists have also expressed concerns about the public health risk of diseases such as smallpox resurfacing as bodies mummified in the permafrost start to defrost.
As reported in Geophysical Research Letters, one effect of global warming is that mountains can get taller.
The weight of ice held in glaciers can contribute to the depression of the earth’s crust into the viscous mantle; as the glaciers shrink the effect of that depression is reduced, and mountain ranges gradually uplift. Glaciers in the Alps have been shrinking since the end of the last mini ice age, but evidence suggests the rate of shrinkage is increasing due to anthropogenic climate change, with knock on effects on the rate of mountain uplift.
Some parts of the Alps are growing taller at a rate of 0.035 inches per year, half of which may result from glacier shrinkage. At that rate, by 2050 Mont Blanc could be over 1.5 inches taller than it was at the beginning of the 21st Century. Although, what with rising sea levels, I suppose we may not really notice the difference…
More Kidney Stones
Kidney stones, or renal calculus, are concretions formed in the kidneys from minerals in the urine, and typically have to be passed from the body through the urine stream; 80% of those suffering from kidney stones are men; and the kidney stone in the picture is 8mm in diameter. Think about it. And it is official: global warming causes more kidney stones. Research presented to the American Urological Association has demonstrated that dehydration is a major factor in the development of kidney stones, particularly in warmer climates, and increasing global temperatures will exacerbate this effect.
Researchers predict that global warming could lead to an increase of as many as 2 million lifetime cases of kidney stones in the USA with treatment reaching an annual cost of $1 billion by 2050. But economic arguments aside, think about the pain…
Between kidney stones, smallpox and the thought of being mauled by a half-Irish Pizzly bear on a slowly rising mountain top, Georeceptionist thinks it is time to turn down the heat.
 Brendan P. Kelly, Andrew Whitely & David Tallmon, ‘The Arctic melting pot’, Nature (2010).
 Matthieu Legendre & others, ‘Thirty-thousand-year-old distant relative of giant icosahedral DNA viruses with a pandoravirus morphology’, PNAS (2014).
 Richard Stone, ‘Is Live Smallpox Lurking in the Arctic?’, Science (2002).
 V. R. Barletta & others, ‘Glacier shrinkage and modeled uplift of the Alps’, Geophysical Research Letters (2006).