Dealing with change, climate and otherwise

In December, the New York Times published an article about the emergence of English wineries, noting the industry’s rapid growth in the last decade as well as the fact that sparkling wines from the region have recently bested French champagnes in competitions. The story ran in the business section, not the science section, but it was about climate change. And like the article by Susan Gaidos in this issue, it illustrated how changing climate is already changing people’s lives and livelihoods.

Warming temperatures in many grape-growing regions has actually helped winemakers in recent years. Longer growing seasons mean grapes produce more sugar, increasing the alcohol content of the wines, Gaidos reports. But the good times for traditional winemaking regions aren’t scheduled to last. Simulations of different climate scenarios suggest that by midcentury some of the prime wine regions in California, France and Italy will be too hot for grapes currently grown there. Instead, as this issue’s cover hints, future generations may drink wines from China, England, Canada or even Scandinavia. Vineyards are already being planted and expanded in cooler locales once thought unsuitable for many mainstream grapes. That some in the wine industry are already moving forward to deal with current and future climate shifts shouldn’t be a surprise — it’s a pragmatic move by players in a multibillion-dollar business trying to protect profits. It offers an important lesson in embracing change, a lesson global warming is poised to teach billions of people over the next hundred years.

Technology is another major force of change today, a point highlighted in this issue’s Science Visualized. As the speed of deciphering the chemical DNA letters that make up each organism’s genetic blueprint has soared, the cost of such sequencing has dropped equally swiftly. Scientists are now on the verge of an era when they can regularly sequence individuals’ genomes, a feat bound to bring profound changes to medicine and people’s understanding of themselves.

Changes of a more cosmic nature are discussed in our coverage from this year’s American Astronomical Society meeting. Andrew Grant describes a new study pointing to supernovas as a source of the cosmic dust that seeded early starbirth and reports on new work showing that gravitational lensing of supernovas might be useful for measuring the continuing expansion of the universe. It’s a good reminder that change is constant, whether we are ready for it or not.

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