Driving Forces of Impacts Often Interact in Complex Ways

Human, animal, and plant systems have co-evolved over the past millennia within the context of particular climatic conditions. Life, from microbes to the largest flora and fauna, depend on and interact with each other in ways that are still not well understood even under conditions of an assumed constant climate. All have evolved to operate within a relatively narrow range of climate conditions. There is limited understanding of how systems will respond to changes in climate conditions, as well as changes in extremes.

One of the lessons learned from biometeorology is that system vulnerability moderates or exacerbates the impacts arising from climate anomalies and extreme weather events. High ambient temperatures, or heavy precipitation events, are problems when the system of interest (human or animal health, water resources, agriculture, tourism, etc.) is unable to cope or respond effectively. As noted by Auliciems in this volume, because of the uncertainty about the rate and extent of climate change, increasing the adaptive capacity of systems will likely moderate the impacts observed.

Human populations are, in general, acclimatized to the weather patterns in their local region (Kalkstein and Sheridan; Jendritsky and deDear). Tolerance to thermal extremes depends on the interaction of personal characteristics (age, fitness, gender, chronic diseases, etc.), behavioral choices (level of activity during heatwaves, etc.), and infrastructure (how much hotter buildings become than the surrounding environment). Morbidity and mortality during heatwaves also depends on whether a community has an effective and timely heatwave early warning and response system. Changing one of these driving factors can affect the impacts observed during a heatwave. This illustrates the need to view adaptation itself as a complex system, where changing one action can alter the timeliness and effectiveness of a warning or adaptive strategy.

As discussed by Sofiev et al., allergic diseases result from the complex interactions of genes, allergens, and co-factors; these factors vary across and within regions. For example, allergic diseases are more common in urban than rural areas in Africa, possibly because parasites protect against atopic diseases. The reverse pattern is observed in most other regions, suggesting non-allergic co-factors are important in the development of sensitization and symptoms. Future patterns of allergic diseases are likely to differ from current patterns as climate and other environmental changes alter vegetation, timing and magnitude of flowering, and atmospheric transport.

Under climate change the phenology, productivity, and spatial extent of crop systems is expected to change. As emphasized by Orlandini et al., the situation for any one crop is likely to be complex because of the multiple drivers of productivity and potentially competing effects. For example the yields of potatoes, as well as other root and tuber crops, are expected to increase in many regions due of CO2 enrichment. However, warming may reduce the growing season in some species and increase water requirements in regions where water availability (and soil moisture) is projected to decrease. This clearly points to a spatially incoherent response of cropping systems to climate change and non-linear effects. Accordingly, effective crop management strategies will need to be place-specific, highlighting the fact that adaptation policies can not be spatially invariant and need to recognize system complexity.

Tourism-recreation is highly influenced by climate, from the local scale where the climate defines the length and quality of outdoor recreation seasons, to the global scale where climate drives some of the largest tourism flows. Climate also affects environmental resources, such as sea temperatures and bathing water quality, coral reefs, snow quantity and quality, wildlife and other attractions that are critical to (eco-) tourism. Climate, climate variability, and climate change affect tourists, tourism businesses, and destination communities. As emphasized by Scott et al., adaptation within the tourism-recreation sector includes a wide variety of measures undertaken by diverse stakeholders. These measures are often taken in isolation, without coordination and collaboration across affected stakeholders. Actions taken in other sectors will affect the tourism-recreation sector, such as coastal management plans, building design standards, emergency management, wildlife management, water quality standards, and environmental impact assessments. This clearly points to the fact that in addition to biophysical complexity, social, economic, political and cultural complexity may play a major role in determining the effectiveness of adaptation strategies. Accordingly, biometeorologists need to engage with the challenge of how biometeorological knowledge can be used most effectively in the complex decision environments within which adaptation policies are developed.

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