Climate Change Rewrites World Wine List
Diver Henning May places bottles of wine on the floor of an aquarium during a press event in Stralsund, Germany, March 13, 2013. Six cities in northern Germany currently let their wines ripen in secret locations on the ocean bed of the Baltic Sea.
A once rare butterfly living in the United Kingdom is the latest unexpected beneficiary of the rising temperatures brought about by global climate change. Over the last 25 years, the brown Argus butterfly can now exist over a larger range thanks to a warmer environment and a new plant host to raise its young. And these fortunate insects aren't the only ones who stand to benefit from a warmer world. Yes, over the coming decades, there are certainly many other species, including humans, that will feel increasingly pressured by environmental changes brought about by climate change. But there will be some balance of winners and losers among the different species on this planet. Here's a look at some of those who will likely come out ahead.
Change in wind patterns as a result of climate change has helped albatrosses in the Southern Ocean find food more rapidly, according to a study published in a January 2012 issue of Science. The faster and more intense winds reduce the amount of energy albatrosses need to expend to fly, particularly useful given that these birds can fly distances spanning thousands of miles. By using less energy and finding more food, the albatrosses are healthier and often have better breeding outcomes, according to the study's authors.
Gray Nurse Shark
Worldwide, around one third of oceanic shark species are at risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These animals are primarily at risk as a result of human intervention, particularly the overfishing of sharks for their fins. But there is one species of shark that may stand to benefit from man-made climate change, the Australian gray nurse shark. Like many shark species, gray nurse shark populations have been under pressure. This species could disappear entirely by 2050. However, thanks for warmer waters surrounding Australia, two separate populations of this nurse shark on each side of the continent may reunite for the first time in 100,000 years.
Sharks aren't the only sea life that might benefit from warmer waters. Killer whales, too, appear poised to take advantage of rising ocean temperatures, exploiting new feeding areas as Arctic snow ice melts that were once off limits. The orca's gain, however, could be detrimental to other species. Killer whales prey on two species, the beluga and the narwhale, considered "near threatened" by the IUCN. With their chances to escape to safety from the predatory killer whales dwindling as ice melts, these species could face further pressure to their populations.
This tiny insect has made major inroads into the North American continent thanks to warmer temperatures. Mountain pine beetles can decimate entire forests. During cold snaps, they are killed off. But with shorter, warmer winters, more of these bugs are surviving through the cold season and expanding their ranges even further.
Acidifying oceans and warmer waters might be encouraging swells in populations of jellyfish around the world. Although the notion that jellyfish are benefiting from climate change has been subject to debate, studies have shown that coastal jellyfish populations are generally on the rise. More jellyfish would be bad news for any species that relied on the oceans for its food supply, including humans. Jellyfish can essentially reorder the food web by eating the same plankton that would otherwise be consumed by fish, restricting the transfer of energy on the food chain since predators tend to avoid them. The increase in jellyfish populations could also lead to an ecological disaster by resulting in an increase in carbon beyond what oceans can cope with, according to a report from The Guardian. When jellyfish die, they break down into biomass with considerably higher levels of carbon than their vertebrate counterparts. Bacteria that thrive on decaying organisms cannot absorb carbon as well and instead breathe it out into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Once standing on the brink of extinction due to over-hunting for their meat and feathers in the 19th century, trumpeter swans have made a comeback in Alaska, thanks not only to restrictions on hunting these birds but also to global warming. Warmer temperatures have allowed the swans to expanding their ranges, and longer summers have allowed to greater opportunities for breeding and raising young, according to Scientific American.
Americans spend some $40 billion a year caring for their lawn, according to Bloomberg News. And that industry could get even more lucrative with the spread of a pest that has its sites set on your home turf: fire ants. According to a report from the National Wildfire Foundation, the range of red imported fire ants could expand some 21 percent in the United States, more than 80 miles northward, within the lifetime of a child born today.
If there's one creature who's climate change gain is our loss, it's mosquitoes. No longer restricted to strictly tropical environments, mosquitoes have spread as warmer temperatures have crept into environments they had never previously been. More mosquitoes means higher potential to spread diseases, including malaria, West Nile virus and dengue fever. This greater risk of disease is not only bad news for humans, but also some animals, including certain bird species, who had previously been unexposed to these pests. In fact, even some of the world's largest creatures are not immune to the disease transmitted by these tiny insects. Last month, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society revealed that two whales kept in captivity died as a result of diseases carried by mosquitoes.
Yellow Bellied Marmot
Although most mammals won't be able to flee climate change quickly enough, some are taking full advantage of the changing conditions. The yellow-bellied marmot, which calls Colorado's Rocky Mountains home, fattens up ahead of winter before its long hibernation into spring. With a shorter season though, the marmots are emerging larger than they otherwise would. As a result, they've also been breeding more and passing their larger size onto their offspring.
It's circa 2050 and shoppers are stopping off at Ikea to buy fine wine made in Sweden.
A Nordic fantasy? Not according to climate experts who say the Earth's warming phase is already driving a wave of change through the world of wine.
As new frontiers for grape growing open up, the viability of some traditional production areas is under threat from scorching temperatures and prolonged droughts.
And in between the two extremes, some long-established styles are being transformed. Some whites once renowned for being light and crisp are getting fatter and more floral while medium-bodied reds are morphing into heavyweight bruisers.
"Some people are alarmists, I prefer to be an optimist," says Fernando Zamora, oenology researcher and professor at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain.
"I have no doubt that we will still have vineyards in traditional regions, but we have to think of new strategies. And we will also have new zones for vineyards. That's for sure.
"Already in Germany they are making fine red wine where it used to be very difficult. And in Denmark, now they've started making wine."
Climatologists working with the wine industry around the planet predict temperatures will rise by one to two degrees Celsius from now until 2050, a trend that is expected to be accompanied by an increase in the incidence of extreme weather events.
"Can any region continue to grow the exact same varieties and make the exact same style of wines? If what we know today is correct, that is highly unlikely," said Gregory Jones, oenology professor at Southern Oregon University.
New vineyard projects in northern Europe will be risky given the increased unpredictability of the weather and the potential for one cold snap to destroy an entire crop.
So it may be that the biggest change will come in the range of wines produced in areas that, until recently, have struggled to ripen some varieties.
Tasmania, parts of New Zealand, southern Chile, Ontario and other parts of Canada, England and the Mosel and Rhine areas in Germany are among the regions that could benefit.
"You can look anywhere in the world where there are relatively cool climate regions that today are much more suitable than they were 30, 40, 50 years ago, because the climates were too cold then. People couldn't ripen fruit," added Jones.
Like Zamora, Jones forms part of an international committee for the agriculture and forestry climate change program (ACCAF) run by France's research institute INRA.
They are tasked with formulating strategies for helping everything from the plant to legislators cope with climate change.
While wine grapes might not be necessary to feed the Earth's population, the grape vine is more sensitive to climate than plants like rice, corn and soyabeans, which could provide valuable insight for essential future food supplies.
Diver Henning May places bottles of wine on the floor of an aquarium during a press event in Stralsund, Germany, March 13, 2013. Six cities in northern Germany currently let their wines ripen in secret locations on the ocean bed of the Baltic Sea.Stefan Sauer/Corbis
Vitis vinifera, the plant that gives us fine wine grape varieties, is a prolific wanderer that has a fine-tuned sense of the right place to take root and grow perfect grapes.
Water stress, temperature change, inopportune downpours and frosts are just a few of the variables that have profound effects on the balance of sugar and acidity, the ripeness of tannins, and the palette of aromas.
"In Alsace (northeastern France), climate change is already a problem, because it's changing the aromatic profile, the balance of sugar and acidity. If the consumers accept the changes, it's not a problem. If they don't, it is," said Jean-Marc Touzard, a co-coordinator of ACCAF.
Producers of Beaujolais meanwhile see warmer weather improving the quality of their product in a region where winemakers have sometimes had to add sugar to bolster alcohol levels in their reds.
"In 2003 (when France suffered a severe summer heatwave), our wines tasted more like Cote du Rhone," said Jean Bourjade of the growers group Inter Beaujolais.
"Beaujolais has seen that they can make better wine in a warmer climate, so there is a benefit. But is there a limit to that benefit? Does it go on forever?" said Jones.
"For ten years, they'll be happy. Then they'll have problems," predicted Touzard.
The Languedoc region around the Mediterranean already faces these problems. Hotter, dryer weather is making the area's already-robust wines more full-bodied and more alcoholic, at the expense, some say, of finesse.
But all is far from lost.
"In the Languedoc, the growers have already begun adapting -- planting at a higher altitude and on different soils," said Touzard.
Another solution is to change the grape varieties legally allowed under Europe's strict appellation laws, sourcing the indigenous varieties from hot weather climes like Sicily, Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
Researchers also say that once these grapes have been genetically decoded, they could be used for plant breeding.
Portugal alone has between 100 to 150 indigenous varieties that we know virtually nothing about, according to Jones.
"Some of the more southern, really warm places that have genetic material could be a real hotbed for dealing with heat tolerance in the future, "said Jones.