Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
1. Rain fell on the peak of Greenland's ice sheet for the first time in recorded history
Unusual summer showers could be another sign of climate change in Greenland.
The story: Earlier in August, rain fell for hours on the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet — one of only two on Earth. Why is this news and not just a weather report? Because, it is the first time in recorded history that rain has ever fallen in this region where temperatures rarely rise above freezing, reports Joe Hernandez for NPR. The unprecedented rain storm followed three ice melt events in Greenland, where temperatures were so high that even the thickest ice started to melt.
The big picture: As climate change accelerates, temperatures in the Arctic are heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet. According to experts, the rainfall on Greenland’s summit is just the first of many impacts global warming could have on this region — and consequently, around the world.
“Because of hotter global temperatures, Greenland and Antarctica lost enough ice over the last 16 years to fill all of Lake Michigan,” writes Hernandez, citing a 2020 study. “The melting has implications for people far from Greenland. The ice loss is helping drive sea level rise, threatening coastal communities around the world with flooding.”
Pollutants from wildfires are causing dry, flaky skin rashes.
The story: California has experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons in history, with massive infernos blazing through homes, destroying forests and causing respiratory issues. According to new research, pollution from these wildfires could also be damaging your skin. In the first study of its kind, a group of researchers found that visits to the dermatologist for eczema increased dramatically in California this summer. This is likely due to the impact of smoke on skin, writes Courtney Rubin for The New York Times.
“Some pollutants trigger receptors that regulate detoxifying proteins — a good thing — but at the same time stimulate other inflammatory pathways that make the skin more sensitive and leach it of water,” he writes. “The result: dry, scaly skin.”
The big picture: Scientists predict that eczema is not the only impact that poor air quality from wildfires could have on skin: Research shows that pollutants could damage lipids, proteins and DNA in skin cells, compromising the skin’s barrier.
Experts say that the best way to protect yourself from pollution during fire season is to cover up with long-sleeved clothes and pants or apply a layer of lotion to the skin each morning.
Climate change is edging out a small alpine critter — but a new patrol could help save it.
The story: In Midwestern United States, rabbit-like pikas are struggling to survive the impacts of climate change. However, a new initiative dubbed the “Pika Patrol” is working to change that, reports Amanda Mascarelli for National Geographic. In recent years, rising temperatures have minimized the suitable habitat for pikas, which need dense snowpack to stay warm during the winter and cool rocky areas to avoid overheating during the summer. To learn more about how climate change is affecting pika populations, local “Pika Patrol” volunteers have been trained to survey and collect data on the small mammal.
The big picture: “It’s a lot easier to help a species at the start of its decline than when it’s on life support,” Alex Wells, one of the initiative’s directors, told National Geographic. Known as “ecosystem engineers,” pikas are essential to distributing plant seeds and nutrients across alpine ecosystems due to their frequent foraging behaviors. Through the “Pika Patrol” initiative, scientists can collect more data on pika behavior and learn the best techniques to conserve them — and the critical services they provide.
Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.
Cover image: Storm clouds and lightning, United States (© Roger Hill/500px)