Responses in the start of Betula (birch) pollen seasons to recent changes in spring temperatures across Europe

Int J Biometeorol. 2002 Sep;46(4):159-70. doi: 10.1007/s00484-002-0139-x. Epub 2002 Jul 26.


A shift in the timing of birch pollen seasons is important because it is well known to be a significant aeroallergen, especially in NW Europe where it is a notable cause of hay fever and pollen-related asthma. The research reported in this paper aims to investigate temporal patterns in the start dates of Betula (birch) pollen seasons at selected sites across Europe. In particular it investigates relationships between the changes in start dates and changes in spring temperatures over approximately the last 20 years. Daily birch pollen counts were used from Kevo, Turku, London, Brussels, Zurich and Vienna, for the core period from 1982 to 1999 and, in some cases, from 1970 to 2000. The sites represent a range of biogeographical situations from just within the Arctic Circle through to North West Maritime and Continental Europe. Pollen samples were taken with Hirst-type volumetric spore traps. Weather data were obtained from the sites nearest to the pollen traps. The timing of birch pollen seasons is known to depend mostly on a non-linear balance between the winter chilling required to break dormancy, and spring temperatures. Pollen start dates and monthly mean temperatures for January through to May were compiled to 5-year running means to examine trends. The start dates for the next 10 years were calculated from regression equations for each site, on the speculative basis that the current trends would continue. The analyses show regional contrasts. Kevo shows a marked trend towards cooler springs and later starts. If this continues the mean start date will become about 6 days later over the next 10 years. Turku exhibits cyclic patterns in start dates. A current trend towards earlier starts is expected to continue until 2007, followed by another fluctuation. London, Brussels, Zurich and Vienna show very similar patterns in the trends towards earlier start dates. If the trend continues the mean start dates at these sites will advance by about 6 days over the next 10 years. Following this work, amendments will be needed to pollen calendars and local predictive models. It will also be important to assess the implications of earlier seasons for allergy sufferers.

MeSH terms

  • Betula
  • Climate*
  • Europe
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Humans
  • Pollen
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / etiology*
  • Seasons
  • Temperature