May 1, 2008 Researchers began a nationwide initiative to track climate change by recording the timing of the first bud, first flower, and seed dispersal for plants across the country. They encouraged people to record information in their own neighborhoods and plan to compile those findings to build a comprehensive record of the changing climate.
Could the emergence of spring provide clues to climate change? Some researchers think so and now, you can be part of the scientific process studying global warming, just by observing what's blooming in your own backyard.
This spring, there may be more to those buds and blossoms in your backyard than meets the eye. The timing of when plants bud or flower is changing and nature's calendar is getting warmer earlier. While studying climate change, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. is recruiting volunteers across the country to monitor their back yards.
"Scientists can't be everywhere," Sandra Henderson, Ph.D., a science educator at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told Ivanhoe. "We need these extra sentinel eyes on the landscape, if you will."
Henderson spearheads Project BudBurst. "Well, it may not seem like a lot when a plant blooms earlier or later. What the plant does is it starts giving us clues to the climate. When you start tracking this long-term we can see when those changes occur," she explained.
Botanists anxiously await Project BudBurst's findings. "I think there's validity to that if you are willing to look at it over the long term and things are very different from one season to the next, but it's really averages you have to consider," Dan Johnson, curator of native plant collections at the Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colo., told Ivanhoe. Volunteers record weekly data online. "Project Budburst allows individuals an opportunity to learn more about climate change through participation," Dr. Henderson said.
Project budburst will be repeated year after year, so volunteers will build their own archive of evidence from their own backyard.
PROJECT BUDBURST: Participants choose a plant or plants to observe, then begin checking their plants at least a week before the date of the average budburst. They are looking for the point at which the buds have opened to reveal visible leaves. Participants report that data, and continue to observe the plant for other events such as first leaf, first flower, and also seed dispersal. Project BudBurst takes the records that participants input, then creates maps of these events across the United States.
WHAT IS PHENOLOGY? The science of phenology is the study of the timing of the life cycle of plants and animals. It focuses on establishing how and why plants and animals undertake processes at certain times of the year, for example when to hibernate, flower, and reproduce. Phenology has a long and distinguished history. In Japan and China, cherry and peach blossom festivals extend back more than a thousand years.
The American Geophysical Union contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.