Thursday, July 30, 2015

Before the Time of Global Warming, Data Show Spring Sprung Later

Plants such as serviceberry now bloom many days earlier on average as temperatures increase due to climate change. Early blooms could portend large disruptions to the ecosystem, scientists say. (Credit: Steven Severinghaus) Click to Enlarge.
If actions do indeed speak louder than words, plants and animals are telling us in no uncertain terms that human-caused climate change is changing their lives—with potentially dire consequences for the ecosystem.

According to one of the largest troves of ecological data from the past, living organisms are already responding to the rise in temperatures from global warming.  By digitizing more than 11,000 records from the 19th century that chronicled the flowering of plants and trees, the springtime arrival of migrating birds, and the annual onset of frog mating calls, researchers at the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program in Harlemville, N.Y. have shown that spring is arriving as much as 14 days early as climate change accelerates.

The observations were recorded at more than 90 scientific academies across New York State between 1832 and 1862 as part of a statewide effort organized by the University of the State of New York.

"As far as we can tell it's the largest [historical] data set from North America," said Conrad Vispo, who recently uncovered the long-forgotten documents and heads the group’s Progress of the Seasons project.

Vispo, an adjunct professor of horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., is working with the New York Phenology Project, a group that tracks the impact of climate change on plants and pollinators, to compare the timing of historical observations with seasonal changes today.  A preliminary analysis of five common species from New York's southern Hudson Valley shows plants and trees are flowering from two days to two weeks earlier than they were in the mid-1800s, as the temperatures recorded in the region increased between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It would suggest that there have been changes in the climate that have had broad impacts on the timing of natural events," Vispo said.
Richard Primack, a professor at Boston University and a co-author on the studies comparing Thoreau’s observations to seasonal changes seen today, said flowers are the canary in the coal mine for more dire changes to come.

Read more at Before the Time of Global Warming, Data Show Spring Sprung Later

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