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Climate Change Is Making Apples Mushier

Fond of Fujis? Partial to pears? Scientists are busy mapping out how rising temperatures are affecting the quality of fruits we all know and love, and it’s not pretty.

Climate Change Is Making Apples Mushier
[Image: Rotten Apples via Shutterstock]

There are few worse feelings in the world (hold off on bad breakups, addiction recovery, and puberty for a second) than biting into a good, crisp-looking apple and finding out that it’s a whole lot of mealy nothing on the inside. At risk of being the bearer of bad news, according to a recent study in Scientific Reports, that experience may become more common: Japanese scientists say they’ve found evidence that links mushy, sweeter Fuji apples to climate change.

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After looking at records on two popular varieties of apple (Fuji and Tsugaru) in two orchards over 40 years, scientists concluded that the “taste and textural attributes” of apples had shifted. They found that “acid concentration, firmness, and watercore rating all decreased,” meaning that the apples’ structural integrity–and sourness–had been compromised. Meanwhile, the annual mean air temperature in both orchards increased between half and two-thirds of a degree. The researchers noted that high temperatures during apples’ pre-harvest period have been proven to affect all of the taste and textural qualities mentioned above.

“These results suggest that the taste and textural attributes of apples in the market are undergoing change from a long-term perspective, even though consumers might not perceive these subtle changes,” the researchers wrote. “If global warming continues to progress, the changes in the taste and textural attributes of apples could be more striking as blooming dates become even earlier and temperatures increase during the fruit maturation period.”

Nature observed that similar effects had been found in wine grapes and pears. Two years ago, a study in PLoS One also found that global warming would negatively affect fruit and nut trees as well. Some varieties of fruit and nut trees–like cherry, apricot, walnut, and almond–need a period of “winter chill” in order to produce fruit. But in areas where winters are becoming milder, those trees are less likely to function. Researchers highlighted pistachios, walnuts, plums, peaches, and cherries from California and Chile as potentially threatened crops, and noted that moving them to chillier climes would be difficult–potentially a fruitless (har har) task.

A report released in early August from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment found that the PLoS One researchers’ fears are, in fact, already upon us. The OHHEA found that nighttime heatwaves were increasing across all regions, and “winter chill” periods in the Central Valley were on the wane. Annual average temperatures have risen by roughly 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit across the state, with parts of the Central Valley experiencing the largest changes.

Meanwhile, snowmelt from the shrinking Sierra Nevada glaciers, the source of much of California’s irrigation and drinking water supply, is in serious crisis mode–as a result, NASA has launched a project called the “Airborne Snow Observatory” that attempts to map the snowpack supply across the California and Colorado mountains. The takeaway: Enjoy fruit while you can. A good apple is hard to find.

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About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data

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