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Global Warming Bringing Spring Earlier

Discussion in 'Nature/Habitat/Garden Corner' started by OSimpson, Mar 25, 2008.

  1. OSimpson

    OSimpson Certified Master Naturalist

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    Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C.
    AP March 20, 2008

    Washington, D.C.'s famous cherry trees are primed to burst in a perfect pink peak about the end of this month. Thirty years ago, the trees usually waited to bloom until around April 5.

    In central California, the first of the field skipper sachem, drab little butterflies, was fluttering about on March 12. Just 25 years ago, that creature predictably emerged there anywhere from mid-April to mid-May.

    And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On March 9, when allergist Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn't be measured until late April.

    For biologists, these trends are a worrying sign of the ominous effects of global warming.

    The fingerprints of human-caused climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.

    "The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.

    Visible From Space

    Spring officially arrives on the vernal equinox, which this year occurred today at 1:48 a.m. Eastern time.

    But biological timing, known as phenology, has sped up considerably as the world has warmed on average in recent years.

    Phenology data goes as far back as the 14th century, when people began tracking the harvest of wine grapes in France. The considerable amount of information shows that while there is a change in the timing of fall, the change is biggest in spring.

    In the 1980s in particular there was a sudden, big leap forward in spring blooming, scientists noticed. And spring keeps coming earlier at an accelerating rate.

    What's happening is so noticeable that scientists can track it from space. Satellites measuring when land turns green found that spring "green up" is arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 north of the Mason-Dixon line. (Related: "Warming Sign? Another Early Spring for Rocky Mountains" [April 9, 2007].)

    In much of Florida and southern Texas and Louisiana, the satellites show spring coming a tad later. But global warming can explain that too, in a complicated way, the scientists said.

    The federal government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that last fall they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor these changes.

    The idea, said biologist and network director Jake Weltzin, is "to better understand the changes, and more important—what do they mean? How does it affect humankind?"

    Animals at Risk


    There are winners, losers, and lots of unknowns when global warming messes with natural timing.

    People may appreciate smaller heating bills from shorter winters, a longer growing season, and maybe even better tasting wines from some early grape harvests. But biologists also foresee big problems.

    While some plants and animals use the amount of sunlight to figure out when it is spring, others base it on heat building in their tissues, much like a roasting turkey with a pop-up thermometer. Around the world, those internal thermometers are going to "pop" earlier than they once did.

    The changes could push some species to extinction. That's because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. And plants that bud too early can be devastated by a late freeze.

    The young of tree swallows—which in upstate New York are laying eggs nine days earlier than in the 1960s—often starve in those last gasp cold snaps because insects stop flying in the cold, ornithologists said.

    University of Maryland biology professor David Inouye noticed an unusually early February robin in his neighborhood this year and noted, "sometimes the early bird is the one that's killed by the winter storm."

    The checkerspot butterfly disappeared from Stanford's Jasper Ridge preserve because shifts in rainfall patterns changed the timing of plants on which it develops. When the plant dries out too early, the caterpillars die, said Notre Dame biology professor Jessica Hellmann.

    "It's an early warning sign in that it's an additional onslaught that a lot of our threatened species can't handle," Hellmann said.

    It's not easy on some people either. A controlled federal field study shows that warmer temperatures and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide cause earlier, longer, and stronger allergy seasons.

    "For wind-pollinated plants, it's probably the strongest signal we have yet of climate change," said University of Massachusetts professor of aerobiology Christine Rogers. "It's a huge health impact. Seventeen percent of the American population is allergic to pollen."

    This past winter's weather could send a mixed message. Globally, it was the coolest December through February since 2001 and a year of heavy snowfall. (See a photo gallery of some of the unusual winter weather.)

    Despite that, it was still warmer than average for the 20th century.

    Human Effects

    Unlike sea ice in the Arctic, which recently has shown record ice losses, the way climate change is tinkering with the natural timing of day-to-day life is concrete and local. People can experience it with all five senses.

    • You can see the trees and bushes blooming earlier. A photo of Lowell Cemetery, in Lowell, Massachusetts, taken May 30, 1868, shows bare limbs. But the same scene photographed May 30, 2005, by Boston University biology professor Richard Primack shows them in full spring greenery.

    • You can smell the lilacs and honeysuckle. In the U.S. West, they are coming out two to four days earlier each decade over more than half a century, according to a 2001 study.

    • You can hear it in the birds. Scientists in Gothic, Colorado, have watched the first robin of spring arrive earlier each year in that mountain ghost town, marching forward from April 9 in 1981 to March 14 last year. This year, heavy snows may keep the birds away until April.

    • You can feel it in your nose from increased allergies. Spring airborne pollen is being released about 20 hours earlier every year, according to a Swiss study that looked at common allergies since 1979.

    • You can even taste it in the honey. Bees, which sample many plants, are producing their peak amount of honey weeks earlier. The nectar is coming from different plants now, which means noticeably different honey—at least in Highland, Maryland, where Wayne Esaias has been monitoring honey production since 1992. Instead of the rich, red, earthy tulip poplar honey that used to be prevalent, bees are producing lighter, fruitier black locust honey. Esaias, a NASA oceanographer as well as beekeeper, says global warming is a factor.

    In D.C., seven of the past 20 Cherry Blossom Festivals have started after peak bloom. This year will be close, the National Park Service predicts.

    Last year, Knoxville's dogwood blooms came and went before the city's dogwood festival started. Boston's Arnold Arboretum permanently rescheduled Lilac Sunday to a May date eight days earlier than it once was.

    Even western wildfires have a timing connection to global warming and are coming earlier. An early spring generally means the plants that fuel fires are drier, producing nastier fire seasons, said University of Arizona geology professor Steve Yool.

    It's such a good correlation that Weltzin, the phenology network director, is talking about using real-time lilac data to predict upcoming fire seasons. Lilacs, which are found in most parts of the country, offer some of the broadest climate overview data going back to the 1950s.

    This year, though, it's the early red maple that's creating buzz, as well as sniffles.

    A New Jersey conservationist posted an urgent message on a biology listserv on February 1 about the early blooming. A 2001 study found that since 1970, that tree is blossoming on average at least 19 days earlier in Washington, D.C.

    Such changes have "implications for the animals that are dependent on this plant," Weltzin said, as he stood beneath a blooming red maple in late February.

    By the time the animals arrive, "the flowers may already be done for the year." The animals may have to find a new food source.

    "It's all a part of life," Weltzin said. "Timing is everything."
     
  2. gunzour

    gunzour "Living on the Edge"

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    Hmm.. maybe global warming is to blame for Easter being so early this year.
     
  3. Mr Rogers

    Mr Rogers Active Member

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    Pullease!

    Looking at a single year is like studying a galaxy with a magnifying glass. You are staring at a tree known as 2008, and not noticing the forest.

    More mixed metaphors, courtesy of Mr Rogers!
     
  4. Silence Dogood99

    Silence Dogood99 New Member

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    Thank you for perspective, Mr. Rogers! You can "cherry pick" locations and find that there has been cooling this year globally, including far cooler temps in South America and elsewhere around the globe.

    How dare nature throw off our man-made dates for the cherry blossom festival!
     
  5. Lee

    Lee Permanent Vacation

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    The bigger problem is going to be the invisible (does not make it any less real though) to our eyes meteorite going to hit earth in the next several years and life and the our planet is going to explode into a zillion pieces then ;-)
     
  6. latka

    latka Active Member

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    So we won't need world peace after all.
     
  7. Brassy

    Brassy Hiyah

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    well if 2012 is the end date of the Mayan calendar (what DOES that really mean, anyway), and social security will really be a problem beginning in 2016....hold onto your seat belts, were in for a wild ride...wouldn't hurt to have 4-wheel drive either!
     
  8. Silence Dogood99

    Silence Dogood99 New Member

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    Sooner or later, people will wise up to the idea that while we can impact our immediate environment and our own lives, we simply cannot control nature (infinitely larger and more complex than we can imagine) and we cannot control what evil people/groups are intent on doing, no matter how good our motivation :)
     
  9. sharse

    sharse TeamDonzi rocks!!

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    :pofl:
     
  10. redon1

    redon1 aka Aphioni

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    i swear i'm advising my son not to have kids so he doesn't worry about them have such a screwed up planet to live on...
     
  11. Lee

    Lee Permanent Vacation

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    Like sharse :pofl: Still why waste money on Iraq or spending for fake world peace then???? ;)
     
  12. Silence Dogood99

    Silence Dogood99 New Member

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    Redon, this doesn't sound like you! The planet is in great shape. The current generation always thinks it has it worst. What was life expectancy when our grandparents grew up? What was access to education and so many other experiences like just 100 years ago? Don't give in to Lee's "the sky is falling" mentality!
     
  13. redon1

    redon1 aka Aphioni

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    i know Silence, some days it's really tough to be positive. i remember when 9/11 happened, i went thru some serious guilt aobut bringing my son into a world that was full of so much hatred, how you can die at any moment for no reason... you wouldn't believe what a dark side i have! lol

    but most days i remember that HE is special and will have a positive effect on the world... even if it's just being the best shortstop the NYY ever had... fine with me and the million dollar condo he'll buy his mom! :)
     
  14. GeauxTigers

    GeauxTigers Member

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    So he'll be playing 3rd base? :happygrin:
     
  15. Brassy

    Brassy Hiyah

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  16. redon1

    redon1 aka Aphioni

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    he'll play the whole in field if he has to!
     
  17. gunzour

    gunzour "Living on the Edge"

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    Hmm.. the wine growers have to rely on irrigation to grow grapes because Australia is, basically, a desert. Over the past couple of decades, the Australian wine industry has grown tremendously, resulting in them now having more vineyards than the water supply can consistently provide for. So now they are having a bad year and are looking for something to blame it on. Global Warming is the perfect scapegoat. Everyone knows what it is, and blaming it on global warming might even possibly bring in some monetary relief.

    Note that the growers in the article are complaining most about the price of water. That is a supply and demand problem, not a global warming problem.

    It's interesting, actually, apparently water in Australia is market priced. That's very different from Loudoun County, for example, where we faced a severe shortage of water over the past year, but nobody has even considered raising the price of water as a way of reducing demand.
     
  18. Silence Dogood99

    Silence Dogood99 New Member

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    Thank you, once again, for some rare common sense. :bow:
     
  19. vacliff

    vacliff "You shouldn't say that."

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    But remember!!! The global warming folks have all the amswers:
    Is it getting warmer? Global warming!!
    Is it getting cooler? Global warming causes that too!
    Getting more precipitation? Global warming!!
    Getting less precipitation? Global warming causes that too!
    Getting more humid? Caused by global warming!
    Getting drier? Also global warming.

    Yes, global warming has all the bases covered!
     
  20. Baywatch68

    Baywatch68 New Member

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    Is global warming responsible for flex buildings and the hospital? (sorry, I couldn't resist).
     

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