For a few weeks in February, it sure felt like spring was very near in New Jersey or maybe had even arrived - even if the calendar and Earth's tilt said otherwise. I saw crocuses and daffodils up and blooming. Tree buds seemed to be starting their bud burst.
Then the thermometer reversed itself and we had the biggest snow of the winter.
The news reported that the cherry blossoms in the nation's capital are threatened, and the ones in New Jersey (which generally peak in early April) might also be affected. Not So Trivial Fact: New Jersey has more cherry trees than Washington D.C. - the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States. But the Branch Brook Park cherry blossom webcam in Newark just shows bare trees and snow as I write this.
I have written before about the study of cyclic, seasonal natural phenomena which is called phenology. The National Phenology Network tracks “Nature’s Calendar” via phenological events. But can we actually predict the seasons with any accuracy?
These nature observations include the ones we all have been observing lately, such as trees and flowers, but also ones that you may not be able to observe or just don't pay attention to. Those signs of seasonal change include male ungulates, such as elk or deer, growing antlers at the beginning of the rut and breeding season each year, mammals that hibernate seasonally to get through the winter, and bird migration during the year.
Other than the false Groundhog Day forced observations, phenological events can be incredibly sensitive to climate change. That change can be year-to-year, but the timing of many of these events is changing globally - and not always in the same direction and magnitude.
|Spring leaf anomaly: dark red indicates areas of early bud burst, with some areas as great as 21 days early. It should be noted, that areas around Los Angeles are conversely nearly 21 days behind schedule. via blogs.plos.org|
"From 1982 to 2012, spring budburst (when the leaves first appear) has advanced by a bit over 10 days, while the onset of autumn in the northeast US has pushed back about 4.5 days. No trends were found for other regions. This lengthening of the growing season has profound implications for the ecology of these forests and potentially their ecological evolution. A longer growing season could translate to high carbon storage for increased growth, but higher rates of decomposition and changes in moisture availability. However, these changes in phenology are primarily driven by increasing temperatures. In a warmer world, some species may simply not be able to survive where they are now, creating a dramatic change in the species composition. And this is without considering changes in precipitation."
The National Phenology Network's project called Nature’s Notebook collects data from more than 15,000 naturalists across the nation who, using standardized methods, provide information about plant and animal phenology.
Project BudBurst is another citizen science focused project using observations of phenological events and phases through crowd-sourcing. Project like this give you the opportunity to make your observations of nature more conscious, and to contribute to the knowledge base.