Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm sorry: your what burst?

Global warming's not just for scientists anymore! Now you can get involved directly, just by looking at stuff! (Well. Looking at stuff, and then writing it down, and reporting it accurately, with details, to somebody. It's not all fun and games, kids.)

Project BudBurst is looking for volunteers in the United States to collect climate change data. The idea is pretty simple: you note when you see the first buds, first leaves, first flowers, and so on, of a specific list of common plant species, and these results are collected and compiled annually and compared. Participation runs from February to July, and you can do as much or as little as you want: whatever you have time for. Looked at one way, you're providing valuable information to the scientific community; looked at another way, you're getting the chance to go walk around looking closely at plants with a built-in excuse if anybody gives you weird looks. ("Oh, don't mind me. I'm just doing science.") Maybe there are other useful applications. ("Sorry, dear, you'll have to fix dinner tonight. I have science to do.")

The site explains itself a little differently:

Phenology is literally “the science of appearance.” Scientists who study phenology – phenologists -- are interested in the timing of specific biological events (such as flowering, migration, and reproduction) in relation to changes in season and climate. Seasonal and climatic changes are some of the non-living or abiotic components of the environment that impact the living or biotic components. Seasonal changes can include variations in day length, temperature, and rain or snowfall. In short, phenologists attempt to learn more about the abiotic factors that plants and animals respond to.

Examples of springtime phenological events that interest scientists include flowering, leaf unfolding, insect emergence, and bird, fish, and mammal migration. Think about the changes where you live that tell you spring is almost here. In the Washington, D.C. area, cherry blossoms are a sure sign that spring is on its way. In many parts of the country, hearing the songs of the first robins of the season is what you look forward to. California poppies are an indicator of spring to many along the Pacific shores. In the Midwest, the greening up of fields and pastures is a signal that winter is almost over.

Phenological observations have been used for centuries by farmers to maximize crop production, nature-lovers to anticipate optimal wildflower viewing conditions, and by almost all of us to prepare for seasonal allergies. Today, this well established science is also used by scientists to track the effect of global warming and climate change on organisms and to make predictions about the future health of the environment. By tracking changes in the timing of these phenological events, scientists are able to better understand how our environment is changing.

Anyway. That's Project BudBurst. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to check this out and see if anything interesting has been recorded in the past 7 years.

mr_subjunctive said...

The link in the post is no longer good; now it's apparently

Data here: