By: Matthew Terryn
Summary: Most people know about the tradition of Groundhog Day on February 2nd. The tradition is, if a groundhog emerges from hibernation on Feb. 2 and sees its own shadow, then it will retreat into hibernation and we will have another six weeks of winter. However, Punxsutawney Phil is no phenologist and doesn’t have a great track record for predicting spring. Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycles and how they vary seasonally and inter-annually. The way that phenologists mark the annual arrival of spring is when plants begin the process of growing very tiny leaves, known as “leaf-outs.” Different plants have different bloom times; some bloom during the early part of spring and others can be extended to the middle or end of spring. All of the different data from the “leaf-outs” is taken into consideration for observing the beginning of spring. The season’s arrival has been increasingly early in the past few years. In the Southeast U.S., cases of early spring arrival in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida have been up to 3 weeks ahead of schedule in 2020 and decreasing in variability the further northwest you go. This is the earliest known spring arrival in 39 years of recorded data. The premature arrival of spring is correlating to the global temperature rise in recent years. The data observed could be causation from our current global climate crisis. This vast spring variation in the Southeast U.S. is something we should continue to monitor for data purposes in the future.
The topic of early spring in the Southeast United States should be of concern for a lot of people for many different reasons. For those involved in agriculture, an early spring would mean altered hibernation time for plants and animals. If a plant blooms too early, this could potentially mean pollination time for the plant and the pollinators responsible for transferring pollen might not line up, which could do a number to someone’s income for that year’s growing season. Another issue that goes along with an early spring is produce being damaged due to the varying and unpredictable temperature fluctuations so early on in the year. Plants and animals rely on seasonal cues in the spring and fall for when hibernation starts and ends. If these patterns continue to change, then migration locations could change as well, affecting entire habitats and
Why we should care?
What drew me to this topic first was my curiosity about seasonal change and the science behind it has always fascinated me. I think my fascination on this topic stems from the aesthetics of the seasons changing but that is enough to inspire me to learn more about how it works. Another reason I found this topic interesting is because of the correlation between the date of spring increasing in variability and the current climate crisis we are in now. I don’t think that it is just a coincidence that the data lines up this way. There is a lot of interesting science that is involved in a topic like this one. It has to do with climatology because of the way the temperature changes with each coming season and global warming impact. The seasons changing in general has to do with astronomy and the way that our Earth is tilting when it revolves around the sun. Phenology is the study of animal and plant life cycles and how they are influenced by seasonal change. Botany is present because of the seasonal impact of breeding and pollinating creating genetic variability for stronger species to thrive in the future. So many different fields of science are involved with this topic
Science in Action.
Dr. Theresa Crimmins is the Director for the USA National Phenology Network.
Theresa Crimmins contributes to many scholarly articles that correlate to the topic of my blog. She is very accomplished and has many letters and
articles published in multiple scientific journals. A notable letter she is cited on is about warming experiments on plants to estimate their response to the fluctuations in temperature caused by global climate change. Her research in plant reactions to climate directly relates to the impacts of an early spring in the SE U.S.. She also contributes to this topic as the director of USA-National Phenology Network, overseeing and contributing to the scientific and non-scientific community.