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Greenland Mosquitoes Are on the Attack as Climate Warms

Greenlanders are seeing mosquitoes arrive earlier and stay later, in part due to climate change. Continue reading →

While most of us probably think of Greenland as a big hunk of white on the map, the huge northern island actually has been getting warmer as a result of climate change that's melting its ice sheet and contributing a lot to global sea level rise. But for Greenland's residents, global warming is causing another disturbing trend: A big increase in swarms of blood-hungry mosquitoes, eager to bite anything and anyone they can.

Two species of mosquitoes, Aedes nigripes and Aedes impinger, long have plagued the island during its summers.

In the late 1800s, a visitor to the island described the unpleasant experience of awakening to discover that his tent was filled with the flying insects.

"I put on my clothes with all speed and rushed out into the open air to escape my tormentors, but this was transferring myself from the frying pan into the fire," he recalled. "Whole clouds of these bloodthirsty demons swooped upon my face and hands."

He eventually was reduced to wearing a bandana over his face and pulling his cap down to cover his head and neck.

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But as a recent Vice article details, Greenland's traditional mosquito woes have escalated, now that ponds in which the insects' eggs hatch are thawing earlier than ever before.

"The mosquitoes go through their development faster which means there are fewer days to be eaten by a predator," Dartmouth College ecologist Lauren Culler told Vice. "Lab studies, field studies, and population models show that a warming climate means more mosquitoes survive until adulthood."

The mosquito plague poses a serious threat to Greenland's caribou, who are migrating to the fields where they birth their caves at just about the time that the mosquitoes now are reaching adulthood and are ready to bite. As the Vice article notes, caribou's only defense against mosquitoes is to run to high, windy locations to avoid them.

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As Culler told the publication, mosquito avoidance is interfering with the the larger animal's feeding and care of its young. That may be a factor in the drastic decline in the caribou population, from 472,000 in 1986 to just 32,000 in 2010.

Additionally, a study published in 2013 found that mosquitoes caught at an air force base on the island tested positive for a virus that can cause encephalitis in humans.

Greenland’s rugged landscape has been plagued by mosquitoes.

The effects of global warming are frequently projected decades into the future, but two recent reports -- one from the

U.S. Global Change Research Program

and the other

from the U.N.

-- put into sharp focus visible consequences of our warming planet. An increase in temperature, extreme weather, loss of ice and rising sea level are just a few of changes we can measure right now. Let's take a look at some of the most concerning trends.

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Glaciers are shrinking worldwide and permafrost is thawing in high-latitude and high-elevation areas, reports this year's Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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Only a few extinctions are attributed to climate change, reports the IPCC, but climate change that occurred much more slowly, over millions of years, caused major ecosystem shifts and species extinctions. Land and sea animals are changing their geographic ranges and migratory patterns due to climate change.

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Sea level around the world has increased by about 8 inches since 1880, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which projects a 1 to 4 foot rise by the end of the century.

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Excess CO2 is dissolving in the ocean and decreasing the pH of seawater. The ocean is about 30 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times. More acidity in the oceans makes it harder for animals to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletons and erodes coral reefs.

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The probability of a Sandy-like storm deluging New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast has nearly doubled compared to 1950, according to the American Meteorological Society. Even weaker storms will be more damaging now than they were 10 years ago because of rising sea levels. Superstorm Sandy cost the nation $65 billion, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, and 2012's Hurricane Isaac cost $2.3 billion.

The global sea level rises along with the temperature for two major reasons. For one, heat causes water to expand, which causes the existing water to take up more space and encroach on the coast. At the same time, ice at the poles and in glaciers melts and increases the amount of water in the oceans.

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Across the United States, heavy downpours are on the rise, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Increases in extreme precipitation are expected for all U.S. regions, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

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The most recent IPCC report states with "very high confidence" that current climate-related extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires are showing that countries around the world, at all development levels, are significantly unprepared. The American Meteorological Society estimates that approximately 35 percent of the extreme heat in the eastern United States between March and May 2012 resulted from human activities' effects on climate. The AMS warned that deadly heat waves will become four times more likely in the north-central and northeastern United States as the planet continues to warm.

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