What Phenology Is Telling Us About Spring 2017

What Phenology Is Telling Us About Spring 2017

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Feb. 2, 2017, Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of the holiday in Punxsutawney, Pa.Gene J. Puskar/AP

February 2nd, 2017, Phil the Pennsylvanian groundhog, saw his shadow and predicted 6 more weeks of winter. Phil, it seems nature disagrees with your forecast.

You may or may not have heard the word that spring has come early in parts of the US, leading many to point to climate change as the culprit. Vernal (Spring) Equinox of 2017 is scheduled to occur on March 20, 10:20 a.m. UTC (GMT), but around mid-January many green-thumbs began to notice early spring leaves blooming in the South moving northwest, as shown in the map below. In fact, February 2017 was the second warmest recorded February in the country’s history.

      Spring Foliage Map via The New York Times


                                                      5               15             25  days early, against 30-year average

The first signs of the early spring were noted in more than 200 US national parks. “On Thursday, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a new report revealing that three-quarters of the 276 national parks are experiencing an earlier onset of spring. Half of the parks studied are experiencing ‘extreme early springs.” To add, “for the parks in the ‘extreme’ category, they found that “the onset of spring is earlier than 95 percent of the historical range,” says Jake Weltzin, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey and one of the authors of the report.” For the National Park Service, they are particularly worried about how this early spring will give invasive species and the upper hand in overwhelming native species, like the invasive kudzu plant. Also, the early bloom of Spring may affect plant-organism interaction leading pollinators like birds and bees to arrive either too early or too late depending on the effect this early spring will have in different wildflower plant species.

How do we identify seasonal change? There are three measures: astronomical, meteorological, and phenological. Phenology is the science of appearance; the knowledge “of natural phenomena that recur periodically, as migration or blossoming, and of their relation to climate and changes in season.” The USA National Phenology Network leads in monitoring the influence of climate on the phenology of plants, animals, and landscapes but even individuals over on Twitter are sharing their early spring observations with the hashtag #phenology.

How else might this affect you? Firstly, our health can be greatly impacted by this early spring. An early spring may bring early season disease carriers like ticks and mosquitoes, as well as a longer pollen allergy season. Crops will also risk a higher likelihood of “plant damage caused by late frosts or summer droughts“. Outdoor recreation activities can also be affected like the timing of hunting and fishing season. Certain festivals like Japan’s Sakura (cherry blossom) Festival may not occur on schedule, affecting a large touristic and economic facet of Japan’s springtime.

Astronomically, spring will arrive March 20 when “the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north”. Here’s a countdown timer to help you pinpoint exactly when it happens. via Telegraph



Written by Iman Lynn Mamdouh

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