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Nature's Altered Seasons

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Thank you very much. I've been very, very happy to be with USGS for the last five years in Arizona. But I work out of the national headquarters office. I’m duty station, they say, in Tucson, because I'm building a national network. Basically, it's a national early warning system to understand the effects of climate change on our natural ecological systems that we depend on so much.

Some people argue that with our new cellphones and iPads and Androids, things which I don't know how to use very well, I'm getting so old for that. That we have become disconnected from nature, where we have this nature?deficit disorder. Sometimes I've just been realizing recently that wow!

I don't really think that's necessarily the case, because in some ways we're certainly more connected. But we're more dependent upon the natural ecological world than we ever really were. We had abundant systems that have been degraded for a variety of reasons, and it's now harder to get water in certain places. We had fires in Austin last year, and we had this weird, hot winter and spring. It affected all of us. It affected our everyday lives.

And so the question is, "What's going on a national scale?" We don't often take a national look. And let's think about the 30?year time frame, because we tend to have shifting baselines. Yeah, it was really early this spring, but was it early, early last year? Was it about the same? How about 2010? 2009? Let's go way back. What is that trend?

If we actually track and record patterns of temperature and the patterns of plant and animal activity through time on a national scale, we can start to get a pretty good idea of what those changes are and how we have already adapted and how we need to adapt into the future to maintain, really, our way of life.

We all want to maintain our way of life. We all want to maintain a sustainable planet, sustainable resources, because we depend upon those for our own livelihood and that of our children. We want water. We want wildlife. We want working farms and ranches.

That's why I'm inviting you today to get involved in this exciting new initiative. Building this national network, where we're linking scientists and citizens together. Some people use the term "citizen scientists" for people who are volunteering. In this case it's scientists and citizens who are using the same tool, Nature's Notebook. The same program to understand what's going on a national scale and to be able to compare that information and to share that information with each other to help us make decisions.

With that very long introduction, let me just get to the chaser real quickly in terms of an outline. I've got a lot of bullet points up here. I'm only going to provide a few slides for each one of these, but I want to walk you through this.

You've heard about this National Phenology Network. My guess is that's probably a term that's new to many of you. You thought you were coming here to hear about altered seasons. You're hearing about phenology, which has a Greek root. I'll talk about what is phenology. I'll give you a quick definition of that. And why it's important and how it affects our everyday lives. What are those trends that we're seeing out there across the landscape, historically and already?

Really, what is the importance of that? What does that all really mean for us and for natural systems? And can we get organized to build a national network, to start collecting this kind of information, to share this information and use it? What are we finding so far?

I'm actually very pleased to be back here for my second public talk. The first one was 2009, May 6. I remember because it was my birthday, and I took a little celebratory walk out in the parking lot before the lecture at that time. It was my birthday. And at that time, I'd been at the job for about 18 months, and I was talking about the National Phenology Network.

We'd been doing this, trying to build a national network for plants and animals and whatnot, for 18 months. Well, it was a lot of smoke and mirrors back there, three years ago. We've come a long way. I can talk about what we have been finding, and then I'm going to invite you to join us in this project.

Got to start with a definition. Every time, people tell me: "You need to change the name of your network." OK. Well, it was given to us, so we'll just go with it. But every single time I have to define. What is phenology? No, it is not the study of the bumps on the head as an assessment of moral character at all. There is no R in "phenology." It's not phenomenology. It's not phonology, the study of sound.

Instead it is much simpler than that. It's just the study of the timing of life?cycle events of plants and animals. When I say life?cycle events, that is complicated. But really, it's just things like migration. When do the whales arrive? When do we manage to get out there to see them? What about reproduction? When is the best time to go see the wildflowers or to go see leaves change colors?

“Senescence” is a fancy word for going into dormancy and the color change. And those are important decisions that we make and that nature is constantly doing. Farmers are very cued into this, if you will. Ranchers, because they're dependent on that natural system and the changes. I like to say farmers do phenology all the time.

Why is phenology then important? Up in the upper right?hand corner for you, you'll be able to see that's where I keep track of the outline, so you can keep track of the pulse of the talk, if you will.

Why is phenology important? Well, first of all, phenology is really sensitive to environmental change or climate change. Animals respond very quickly and plants respond very quickly. Many of you experienced that this spring, right? Plants were coming up on your front yard earlier than you ever remembered. Or maybe, was it earlier than 2010, it was an early year then. But very sensitive.

It affects critters, plants and animals, people and ecosystems. Ecological systems are those natural systems, and also, human altered systems that give us things we need like clean air and clean water. When the leaves come out on a tree, starts sucking water out of the ground, it affects how much water is going to the stream. It makes it nice and cool, puts that water in the atmosphere. It affects the ecological system. Takes up carbon.

That's phenology in action. Then you're like, "OK, you've got it." You suddenly learned a new term for something that you see and do every day. You see and do it every day. It's very easy to observe. Since it's so sensitive and has so many downstream impacts. It's happening everywhere, we can actually organize to collect information. We call it a “leading indicator.” A little like the economic index, but it's leading. I'll tell you why.

Because when you think about plants and animals interacting out there in the natural world or in your backyard, there's different ways that they can respond to environmental driving variables, to change, to climate change. In this case, we are dealing with climate change. We're going to have to deal with it, and we need to understand what's going on, so we can adapt to it.

Well, species, meaning those kinds of plants and animals out there, and we are a species, as well, we can do nothing. We don't have to respond to climate change. I'm speaking now about the plants and animals out there. Or we can adapt to it locally.

We can do things like change our behavior. If it gets hot on a rock, we can just go over to the cool side of the rock, if we're a lizard. Or we can change our phenology, when do we do certain things, when do we lay eggs, or when are we mating with other animals, etc. Or, even change the way we look. “Morphology” is a fancy term for how big or how small we get.

Or we can change our genetics. There's little things that can change the genetic information in a plant or an animal through time. It's a passive response, not an active response. It's so funny, you can see I'm scaling up here.

Or you can change your distribution, move to a different location, move north like some butterflies are doing. Or you can just drop out and go locally extinct, or in some cases, you might even go extinct on a much broader scale. These driving variables, these environmental drivers that are pushing us, if we stand firm, or we can flex with those changes in order to survive.

Recognizing this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007, those 2,000 scientists that you've heard so much about recently, unfortunately, got together and said, "We're scientists from across, around the entire world, and we are looking to understand what is the impact of climate change on natural systems." And they went and they said, "What can we use to understand that?"

They went and they found these great phenology datasets, especially in Europe, Korea, where people have been tracking phenology for 1000 years and recording information. And they wrote in this big document, that phenology was perhaps the simplest process in which you could track the change in the ecology. Ecology is where is it, and what is it and what's it doing, of a species in response to climate change.

They won the Nobel Prize for that document. And you've heard something about Climategate and some of those emails, et cetera. I've actually been following that very closely. I'm not a climate change scientist. I'm a biologist, and I've been following that very closely.

As it turns out, there have actually been no situations where anybody did anything untoward. Yes, there were a few mistakes in the document itself. But it's really a very sound document. We have 2,000 people ready, can you imagine it? Maybe 2,000 people are trying to work together to get something done, they actually got something done and it's actually quite fantastic.

The question becomes, "Well, what are the trends?" I saw Bob on the news last night and was wondering whether it was going to be warm today. But this is from the weather blogs, from watch weather blog and they were asking, last year, "Is spring arriving earlier in Washington, DC?"

There's a lot of interest in that. There's a lot of money in that, if you know what I'm talking about. People coming to see the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin. I heard this spring, actually, people were clogging the sidewalks out there in downtown, because it was just such a great nice spring, and you could be out there on the sidewalks and the sidewalk cafes.

People want to know what the trends are, because they need to make decisions about what they're going to do every day.

Well, we can go to science, and we can say, "OK, well, what are the trends?" This is Camille Parmesan, a scientist at the University of Texas in Austin. She and Gary Yohe got together a couple years ago.

I'll do this on all these slides that I'm talking about. There will be an attribution to a statement wherever I possibly can I'll be describing a project. If you want more information about it, you can go to the Nature paper, or you can come find me and I can help you find that paper.

They did an analysis of 677 species looking for long term datasets where scientists had recorded over here, or over there, or this species, or that species, changes thet they had seen in phenology.

Once you put all of those data together, they found that nearly two thirds of the organisms that people had looked at and documented the changes had shown this change in the timing towards earlier springs. When it got warmer, plants and animals came out earlier. So, they're putting together, cobbling together, datasets showing this very, very cosmopolitan shift in the timing of plant and animal activity.

There's a lot of other sources of information, too, that are more recent or different kinds of information. I'd like to just walk you through a few of those as we talk about some of these trends that we've been observing, either nationally or sometimes, internationally.

This is our quote from the "New York Times.” It was an op?ed piece about two week ago on early blooms and changes in phenology in Thoreau's Concord. Henry David Thoreau, when he was out there at Walden Pond, actually tracking the phenology of over 400 plant species.

Many of them are actually no longer there in the Concord area for a variety of reasons. But, many of them are still there. People from universities have actually gone back and found those organisms and looked at their phenology, doing the exact same thing that Thoreau did 150 years ago.

Here's one example from the op-chart that accompanied the "New York Times" piece for a high bush blueberry that the timing of the flowering has shifted about three weeks earlier over time. A lot of variation from year to year, but there's this trend towards earlier flowering. Just one of many species showing this change.

Maybe you like butterflies. Art Shapiro sure likes butterflies. He's out of UC Davis and he's been tracking butterfly emergence and flight for over 30 years in the Central Valley as a professor. He has thousands and thousands of observations from thousands of sites, and from hundreds and hundreds of species.

Here are a few that are changing radically: The Red Admiral, the Field Skipper. When he's tracking those over the course of his 30 year study, he finds that again, lots of variation from year to year, but on average, their coming out about one day earlier per year.

Over the 30 year time period, it turns out they're coming out on average a whole month earlier than they did when he first started his study. This is just an example of one of the many types of organisms that are changing.

Let's go to the marine world. Talk about loggerhead sea turtles off the coast of Florida. This was some work done out of Central Florida. This is the day of nesting from early in the year until later in the year from 1989 to about 2003. About this 15 year time period.

There is a lot of variation here from year to year, but when you use a regression analysis, a model to best fit those dots. You get a line that looks like this. It shows that on average it's almost a day a year over this time period that sea turtles were doing their nesting. They were attributing this to changes in sea surface temperatures that they were measuring.

Lots of changes. Lots of trends going on. But again, many lines of evidence. This is an example of how we can use historical information that you wouldn't necessarily think would be useful. You've got it sitting down there in your basement, for example, where we can look for changes in phenology.

These are a pair of photographs from Lowell Cemetery in Massachusetts. They were collected on the same day of the year. This one was collected in 1868, and this one about 150 years later in 2005.

You can see it is exactly the same location there. Look at the differences in the canopy of so long ago to what we see this year. In fact, this year is such an early year in 2012, it would be very interesting to see when the leaves actually came out. There are these changes that are occurring.

But, you all know that things vary as you drive across a landscape. It doesn't have to be through time. They can vary spatially, as you move from one place to another. This was an image collected by MODIS. It's a MODIS image, which is a satellite imaging system that NASA has.

They put this image up on their website from April 19. This was an overpass, an image taken of our region, including the Appalachians; here's Washington D.C.; here's the Piedmont down here; and, you can see some interesting differences in the colors.

This is basically almost a real color image where you would have -- This area is all green, but then, see the Appalachians, the higher elevations are cooler and hadn't leafed out yet. You know that. You'd see that if you were to drive up from D.C. over to Front Royal, you would see these changes at this time of year.

You can actually look at the spatial variation of phenology, and you don't have to necessarily put it into a climate change, or a long?term context, at all. But, then you can mix them up. You can think about, "Wow, things vary spatially over time."

This beautiful figure is actually from XYZ, we call him Zhang, a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters a few years ago. Where he was looking at the change in the time of spring, using remote sensing images, like that last image I just showed you, where they detect the changes in the colors basically, the greenness of the landscape.

What he's done is he's mapped that across the entire continent of North America, and showed the scale here. This is earlier in the year -- the negative values mean earlier in the year and later in the year. You can see there's a fair amount of spatial variation, this was again, days changed per year.

There's a very interesting trend that we've seen here in the Southeast United States that we're still trying to figure out. The phenology of plants in the Southeast United States in many cases in whole score of systems, has actually either not changed, or become even later than the entire rest of the North American continent.

We think it's actually because, a paper just came out a few months ago about a big “warming hole,” we call it a warming hole. The whole continent of North America has warmed up over the last 30 years or so except for the Southeastern U.S., and they think it has to do with large scale patterns of atmospheric circulation-- where those big trends in the jet stream sit, and how much cool air they bring down.

So, we're still trying to figure that pattern out. That's partly what science is all about; you observe a pattern, then you try to figure out, what is the mechanism that explains that pattern?

So, going back a little to some of Camille's work: What she found is something we actually know as scientists: Different animals and plants respond differently. They respond individualistically, we call it, to a driving variable.

If we increase the temperature here in the room, some of us are going to get uncomfortable and walk out of the room to the cooler foyer and others of us are going to stay in here. We have a differential response.

You can lump that together into different types of organisms. This figure shows a synopsis of some of the work she had done earlier where she said, "Well, let's look at the change in the spring timing." This is now in days per decade. “And let's just lump all organisms together.” And, what she found was on average about three days earlier for all those organisms, the change they were seeing in days per decade.

But, there's a lot of variation. It depends on whether you’re an amphibian or a bird or a butterfly. We just lump them together and you can see very interesting patterns of very differential responses, which set stuff up. I'll tell you about that in the next slide.

If you're a butterfly like a monarch, you depend upon an herb, which is something like a milkweed. Butterflies love milkweed. There's been a shift in the time of the butterfly activity, but not much of a response for some of the plants like milkweed.

This is just an example, but it's actually a real life situation. We're worried about the timing and the mismatch of monarchs when they arrive and when the milkweeds are there and available for them.

Let me give you one example that's actually very, very well known and very well described, some work done by Visser and Both, published in top?notch journals. There's been a change in the phenology of some organisms and it's causing a downstream impact.

They've been looking at this very well known system: English oak in Southern England, a winter moth larva -- this is the larva-- the caterpillar form of the moth, and a fly catcher that migrates up from Africa and depends upon these moths. It doesn't really eat anything else. It depends upon these moth larvae for its food substance.

What's been happening with warming conditions in the British Isles is that the English oaks are now coming out about two weeks earlier. Typical of what we're seeing here in the U.S., too, where we have earlier phenology.

The movement of winter moths, they're just coming out at the same time. They're being driven by the same driving variable. The warming conditions that are causing these to come out earlier make the caterpillars come out earlier. But, the fly catcher is getting different cues, and it continues to arrive at the same time each year.

It's migrating a long distance, and it doesn't necessarily know that it's warmer in the British Isles. It doesn't have an iPhone to be able to communicate back with the grounds there. What's happened is because it doesn't have what we call resource substitution, it doesn't eat other things, the populations have declined about 95 percent.

Because of this mismatch of timing, these things earlier, same time and it creates a mismatch in the timing of organisms. Which gets very important when you think about trying to preserve species like this on the landscape.

Well, let me try to bring it home here in terms of, "What does this really mean for you?" Well, you probably recognize this website. You probably maybe have gone here, or you’ve had visitors who came in for the Cherry Blossom Festival this year.

It's the centennial anniversary of those cherry blossoms around the tidal basin. The Park Service has been tracking phenology on those for a number of years. There's actually some very, very good information in the Washington D.C. area.

This year, you'll recall that the Cherry Blossom Festival was actually quite long. “Celebrating the centennial, let's have it for five whole weeks, a very long time period this year.” They chose March 20th and April 27th. Not just for five weeks, but also March 20th was the earliest date the cherries had ever blossomed, and March 27th was pretty much the latest date the cherries had ever blossomed.

They can bracket that and make sure that there are cherry blossoms out there when there are hundreds of thousands of people. It seems like thousands of people, anyway, who are all flocking around and visiting the cherry blossoms at the tidal basin. But, unfortunately, peak bloom this year, it was a very early spring this year.

Peak bloom was on the very first day of the festival, which was great, except the first day of the festival is not when they had the opening ceremony. That's a little later in the week. By the time they really got the festival rolling, the cherries were done.

This is actually a very important example of a mismatch in phenology that has direct economic implications. Because, you can imagine, people are sitting out there in Milwaukee and they're thinking, "Should we go to D.C. this year or not? Land in Reagan, check it out?Go for the Cherry Blossom Festival? Oh, let me check the webcam there. Let me check the Park Service bloom watch. Oh. This doesn't look too good. We're not going to be able to get there."

Or, "I already bought my tickets on Travelocity. I cannot change the time that I will go. I will just go and partake in other activities besides watching the blooms."

We need information. We need information. We need to understand those patterns and the reasons behind them, and we need to learn how to adapt. Like I talked about, farmers are doing phenology. They're constantly changing cultivars, or planting dates, or harvest dates in synch with the natural system as much as possible, or they go broke.

They're managing their old field mowing so they don't kill the baby birds. We're thinking about setting hunting seasons because we need to know when the animals are there, and what should the season be so we can time the season for when the animals need to be harvested?

We're talking about pollen. A couple years ago, people were calling me up saying, "What's this thing with the pollen bomb? Earlier leafing, earlier pollen, worse pollen."

You had fires in Virginia a couple of weeks ago. There's this knock?on effect that's happening where, when you have a really early spring, it's going to affect things like fires and pollen and streamflow. We don't normally think about: “Well, we depend on those ecosystems for services they give us, and that's being disrupted.”

I could go into some other examples later on as we go along. I just want to keep track of the time so there's time for questions. Getting organized. Wow, there's a lot of stuff going on. Take a breath.

That's where USGS comes in, and the Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Energy and a number of other collaborative organizations. I'll actually take this moment just to say: I'm standing up here, I'm giving this talk, while I'm representing a network and there are a lot of people who have helped us get to where we are today. Very proud and a lot of organizations and agencies who are pulling together a multi?agency collaboration, basically, to initiate this

It's a dot?org organization that is supported by USGS and these other organizations. I'm a USGS employee. I'm an ecologist. Thank you, very much, for paying my salary. I appreciate it. I just want to make sure that's real clear. I do appreciate that and I'm working for you to build this network. But there's a lot of other people, including the staff back in Tucson, who are helping build this thing, as well.

When the network was originally conceived, actually in 2004, just not very long ago, and we actually opened up our doors in 2007. National Science Foundation provided resources to get the thing up and rolling. USGS, etc., all come together to build this new data resource, this national network of what we call integrated, plants and animals together, phenological observations across space and time.

Before you came in and heard this preamble, you probably wouldn't have understood this sentence, and I hope that by giving you some introductions to what some of these terms mean, you'll have a better understanding, and I'm going to lead you through this just a little bit more as we go forward.

Who is the Network? Basically all of these organizations and many more than I just mentioned. I'm having trouble of keeping track of getting the logos up onto the screen. We have a long list of partners. If you go to our website, you can get a list of all of our partners and how we're actually partnering with them as well as links to their websites.

As Bill mentioned in the introduction, we're scientists, government agencies, non?profit organizations, the tribes are getting involved. Educators are very interested in this because the immediately see this is a way to connect people back to nature, learners of all ages. Everybody is learning about our natural world, and you, if you would like to participate in the Phenology Network.

On the theme of getting organized, what's the goal of the Network? Very simple. It’s just trying to understand how plants, animals and landscapes, the stuff that's out there respond to environmental variation and climate change.

When I say environmental variation, what I mean is there's other things that are changing as you move across space. As you go up to the top of the Appalachians, it's going to be different up there. How is that changing? Or, through time, the climate change driver or other natural variation that happens just from year to year. How do we respond, understand and adapt to that?

So our mission, we have a two?fold mission. Our first part is to organize and distribute information to scientists, resource managers and the public, information about phenology.

I'm a plant ecologist. I'm a field biologist. I feel very comfortable counting acorns, planting them in the ground, counting the seedlings when they come up as part of the scientific process. When I became the executive director of this National Network, I suddenly realized I was managing information. It's very scary to me. I was like, "Holy cow, I don't know a bit from a byte. And what's a server?"

Really, that's what we're all about is organizing and managing information. I have a very good team that helps me on that when we're collecting information, organizing it and using it, for example, to predict fires in the southwestern United States. Or we're trying to understand how pollen is produced on junipers, at the level of a whole stand of junipers--put it into a model and figure out when that pollen goes up your nose so we can try to project when pollen is going to be produced.

Or if we're thinking about carbon balance and the start of the season when we're trying to manage and understand carbon on a continental scale.

We have a secondary mission, too, and that is getting people involved. Because, you know what? Phenology is relatively simple. We can all step outside and say, "Yeah, the leaves are on the red maple out there." Or, "Yes, I see a robin." With a little training, we can get people involved across a whole variety of groups of people who don't normally necessarily participate in science. Everybody has an opportunity to get involved.

We do this through our program called Nature's Notebook. It's a national plant and animal phenology observation program, is the technical term for it. Really, it's just a way to get involved. We have a Web app. We have mobile apps that you can get involved in tracking plant and animal activity through our project, Nature's Notebook.

What are we doing then, through Nature's Notebook? Well, we're tracking hundreds of plant and animal species, different kinds. We've actually got around 850 different kinds of plants or animals that we track.

Remember, this is a national program so as soon as we would get some plant or animal added to the list, and get the protocols developed, and get it tied into the database, someone would come to us and say, "We need to get this saguaro onto the list." Or, "We need to get the little crape myrtle." We try to be responsive as much as possible. We have a very nice list for the nation now.

We're engaging thousands of people. By now, we are scientist and citizen observers, citizen scientists working together on protocols and observing thousands of organisms. The last I checked, we had around 18,000 unique organisms that were being observed through the system.

It's working out pretty well. This graph shows the changes in the number of people who are registered. The red line is folks who have registered on this scale. We opened up the doors of the network in 2007 but we had to build this whole framework, this whole set of protocols, the interface on the web, et cetera.

Data started rolling in spring of 2009. It started with plants and we expanded to animals, and so these are the observations recorded. At the end of last year we built this figure for the annual report. At the end of last year we had about 750,000 observations on December 31st.

And we realized in January, "Wow, we're going to hit a million observations. That's great!" A million records from people across the nation who are contributing to Nature's Notebook.

And so, on the 28th of April, I did a little screen capture of something that we have on our website, a little counter, a little countdown. There were 990,000 observations. I didn't have a chance to get this updated, but we reached a million on Tuesday. A million observations now in the database, and we have 1,006,000 now today. The observations are just really pouring in. It's a very, very exciting time for us. So there are a lot of data that are rolling in that are being available.

What I'd like to do now is just change the tenor just a little bit. Like I mentioned, in 2009 when I came here, really it was mostly ideas -- the framework for this. Yes, we did indeed have the plant program getting up and just getting rolling, getting people involved and getting people excited.

Now, three years later, I'm very happy to report that I can come back and put a different section in my talk: What are we finding? The patterns that we see across the landscape from the Nature's Notebook data collection effort.

This is a graphic that was put together by one of our collaborators, Climate Central. What they did is they took data from the lilac monitoring network, which actually goes back to about 1956. It was the best data set we had for phenology in the United States, that is most continuous. We built it and integrated it into our contemporary observation system, Nature's Notebook. So, the data you can get for the lilacs back to 1956 from our system.

We won't have time to go over this, but you can find the URL. I could give you the URL, and it's also in this document, where they're documenting change on a state?by?state basis. Remember, we were talking earlier about Florida and how it hasn't shown very much change. And sure enough, we don't see that. In fact, there's actually a day later there it wasn't even on the scale here.

There's a lot of variation, spring is indeed coming earlier. Another thing that we're finding is those cherry blossoms. We are working with a number of different partner organizations, one of those is Project Budburst that's run out of Boulder. They focus on just plant phenology. It's a very nice program,

And some of the data that were collected through Budburst on cherry blossoms were used to create a model of cherry blossom peak bloom dates. And so what this figure shows by scientists in a paper that came out just last year in a very, prestigious journal. What these scientists did is? They said, "OK, let's look at the pattern of blooming across this eastern Atlantic, the mid?Atlantic here” -- Here's Washington DC, Richmond, and Baltimore up here.

And they said, "What are the patterns that we're seeing?" You can see here these colors represent the timing of peak bloom dates from the model, historical data. The peak bloom date for DC was between April 6th and April 10th. That's about right, that's actually what the Park Service has. And so that was very nice.

But they used the data from Project Budburst and other organizations to build a model to predict, well, let's look at different climate change scenarios at different time periods. This is the time period 2010 to 2039, 2040 to 2069, an averaging over time. And 2070 to 2099.

At the end of the next century, the models are predicting warming conditions, earlier flowering. We've seen that that happens, and that the flowering of cherry blossoms in the DC area will actually be earlier than March 5th.

You can imagine the National Cherry Blossom Festival, if they want to keep up with that, they're struggling already, well, they'll have to think about moving that timing of the festival up each year.

We've also been very happy to have some colleagues at Princeton pull down the data from Nature's Notebook that had been collected on seven different deciduous tree species, and here I'll just show one. This is for Red Maple. And what they did is they built a model that predicts when the Red Maple would flower, and then basically set this as an average.

This is anomaly. This is earlier in the year, later in the year, from 1880 to 2000. They reconstructed the leafing dates for Red Maple back into the past, took this as an average. And then said, "Let's use different emissions scenarios, you might say." Emissions scenario. That means: Let's assume that Americans and the world continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a very high rate. That would be this emissions scenario here.

Or let's say we reduced our carbon consumption and put less carbon into the atmosphere and let it get soaked up back into the oceans and back into the forests at a rate that can be sustained, and that would be this scenario here. What they found is that if we keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it will indeed warm the earth in a way that will cause Maples to leaf out 15 days earlier by the end of the upcoming century.

In contrast, and this is actually exciting. If we worked together to reduce our carbon production into the atmosphere, you can actually change that and actually push the timing of leafing back to where it belongs. There's great hope and this is one very exciting use of the data that people are collecting and contributing right now through Nature's Notebook.

If there's anybody who's already participating, this is where some of your data are going and how we're using it. Here's another quick example of one of the things that we're finding when we're trying to understand the phenology -- again you're all familiar with that term -- the phenology of invasive grasses.

And this is the desert, this is just outside of Tucson, and these are wonderful Saguaro cactus. A big part of our economy in Tucson relies on people coming to Tucson so see the Saguaro flowers, the beautiful Saguaro desert system.

Well, you know what? Deserts don't have grasses. They never evolutionarily had grasses. And you know what? Grasses burn. You end up with a system here where you have a very flammable invasive plant. This is Buffalograss introduced from South Africa. It's actually introduced a lot of places around the world, but it's a real problem in this desert system and it does very well.

Everything yellow you see here is Buffalograss, and these green columns are the Saguaros, and guess what? That Buffalograss burns, and Saguaros don't look very pretty when they're burning. So, no one really in Tucson wants to see this kind of thing on the evening news.

The people who live in these multimillion?dollar homes on the edge of town, up in the foothills, really don't want to see this on the front page of the "New York Times." This is a big airplane; it's Hercules. It's dumping a retardant, a fuel suppressor and fire suppressor, down behind these houses to prevent them from burning in a fire that was burning in the area.

When we have very nice homes that are embedded in Buffalograss that was never there before, you have a problem and the Mayor will wake up and take notice. What do you do? Well, you can send the guys out to the field; this is actually the Arizona Department of Corrections, “Trustees.”

I guess they’re pretty trusty because they are given them a pulaski, which is a combination of a pick and an axe, an axe on the front, a hoe on the back side. They send them up past the million?dollar homes around up into the canyons, the Pima Canyon just outside of Tucson.

It's actually where I've been tracking phenology. If I'm the Director of a national plants and animal observing system, I'd better take that in as well. I have been since 2010. And I've actually been tracking Buffalograss. I didn't know what would happen, but I'll show you a slide in a minute that shows you what we're doing.

You can send in the goons to pull out Buffalograss, basically they call it “mechanical control.” What they do is they just go like this and they hack that Buffalograss out. They move it all around the slope, and they're stuffing it into black plastic bags and hauling it down off the mountain.

Actually, they don't stuff them in plastic bags, which is a bit of problem. In some cases, some places they do, but these guys, what they would do because they're up in the woods, they would basically just stack them into piles and put rocks on top of them. And what we were seeing is, there's a problem.

It appears that there's lots of seeds being spread around when they were doing that, because they'd go up here. There's seeds on these grasses. But they weren't paying attention to the seeds on the grasses, they were told go do it, so OK, we'll go do it.

But as it turns out, there are seeds, and so you need to have phenology information about when the seeds are there. And through Nature's Notebook we actually ask people to record when you see seeds on Buffalograss. I'll show you that data in just a second.

Another alternative, though, is instead of going out and disturbing the plants very much, you can go out and spray it. And if you've ever strapped a big, black bladder bag on your back with straps that cut into your shoulders and you walk out the black basalt, now it's inside in 110?degree heat in Tucson, spraying herbicide, which has the blue dye in it so you know which plants you've sprayed, very soon, you're wandering around like this trying to figure out where you've been. That's no fun whatsoever.

They should send the Department of Corrections crew out here to do this, why they would borrow maybe good kids from now on.This is a lot of work. It's extremely expensive, as you might understand. The thing is, before that herbicide works, they're using Roundup to kill those weeds. You've got to spray it on a green plant, spray it on a green leaf, right? You need to know the phenology information about the green leaves.

We're tracking that through Nature's Notebook. And this is a very complicated figure, so I'm just going to give you the gist of it. What I'm showing here is some of my very own data collected through Nature's Notebook. I started tracking Buffalograss out in Pima Canyon, the very same place where those guys were going out pulling out the grasses. In February of 2010, over here it's through October 2011.

And what I do is, I go out every weekend. Actually, I just found out that I really love going up for a two?hour walk up into the mountains. Beautiful mountainside, I'll show you another picture of that in a few minutes. I go out quite regularly, and when I go out, every red mark here indicates the time when I saw seeds on the Buffalograss using Nature's Notebook.

There are very narrow windows. These red boxes indicate windows of opportunity for managing your Buffalograss if you're sending out your crews, so you're not spreading seeds around. Very narrow.

The green line here is actually showing the amount of greenness in the canopy, sort of an estimate of the greenness. And you can see there's a fair amount of variation through time. When we have our summer monsoons, our summer rains, that's when we get most of our rain, a little bit in the wintertime, you get whole sets of green when you go out and you do your herbicide application.

And so these bands, if you need 40 percent canopy green -- we still need to do some research on this -- then you can go out only during these times of year to really get an effective kill. We're colleting phenology information for a management problem that the Mayor of Tucson and Jim Click Auto Motors is very interested in.

Because they depend upon people who come to Tucson. They want to keep people coming to Tucson. They don't want to burn up the saguaro. They don't want to burn up the expensive homes.

I'll just try to wrap up here a little bit. This is just a pattern of what we're seeing out here on the landscape of people who are maturing Red Maple. Last week we got a call from a scientist who said, "Can you tell me where people are seeing their Red Maple seeds?"

She wanted to do some genetic analysis. She lived down here in Athens, Georgia. She wanted to do genetic analysis and she needed Maple seeds. We said, "Sure, just go into Nature's Notebook, get the data for what people are reporting for what they're seeing on Maple seeds."

I'd like to do is invite you to join us in this really exciting project and help open the book of nature, as we say. We have all different organisms available for monitoring.

It might be the kind of bloom, different kinds of hazelnuts, frogs, or deer. This is what we see out there every day. We've developed a system that allows you to track any one of these organisms and their interactions with other organisms.

If you go to, that's the home page of the Network. Click on the box here for Nature's Notebook. Get yourself logged in. It's a very simple process. Basically, you're going to search for plants and animals, learn how to observe, get yourself registered and then start reporting on what you're seeing.

We use standardized protocols because we want people to be using the same protocol in Louisiana, and in Maine and in Arizona if they're tracking plants or animals. This would be used by the Park Service in California. All 19 of the National Park Service units will be participating in Nature's Notebook.

Yes, you've got scientists and you've got citizens and you've got resource managers who are working together. The first step, just a couple of steps here. Choose your site. This is my site. I like to choose my sites carefully. I choose beautiful sites.

This is the Riparian Corridor just outside of Tucson. It's about 15 minutes from where I live in downtown Tucson. This is a wilderness area managed by the forest service. It's got saguaros. It's got Fremont cottonwoods. There are patches of Buffalograss there on the hillside. This is the area. It's not as invaded as bad yet where I've been tracking my Buffalograss.

This is one of my very inauspicious organisms. I'm tracking this. Yes, this is a Buffalograss. It's senescent right now, which means the leaves have gone dormant, basically. But that's important. If you look, actually not very carefully, it's covered with seeds. This would not be a good time to do mechanical control. The plant is still alive. It's just dormant. Nor would this be a good time to spray with herbicide. It wouldn't do a thing. It would be up in the spring again.

Choose your organisms. Go out. Make your observations. Here we are down in Barataria Preserve Jean LaFitte National Historic Park. We're working with the Park Service introducing people to nature observations. These are grad students who are taking a program through the George Wright Society of the Park Service. We're out tracking Red Maple, just like the Red Maples you have here.

You can record in your data; again this a Park Service person. This is up at Harper Islands, where they're tracking milkweeds. Here, this is this figure I created a little while ago. I showed a picture of the data sheet that you can use information to record information on grasses. Hey, now! We've got two apps. We've got mobile apps for iPhone and Android applications. You can download those from the iTunes Store or the Android Market. You can see a map and compare your data. This is mine. This is my location, up in Pima Canyon. I park here, pass these nice million?dollar homes up here, to where I'm monitoring my Buffalograss in Pima Canyon. This is just an example of what you can see.

You can actually download your data. You can visualize your data. You can put it on a national map like this. You can click on any one of those dots and see the data that are collected, because by participating, you're agreeing to share your data with the database, but also share your data with the world. It's your information, but you're allowing other people to use it.

That's how we work together in a creative commons approach, that allows scientists then to go in, like from Princeton -- we didn't even know they were doing that -- they went in and they pulled down the data. They worked with us to develop an attribution.

Part of the attribution is thanking all the people who are participating in Nature's Notebook. We have many observers, many sites, across just the lower 48. I couldn't fit Alaska on there. I'm from Alaska, actually. What am I thinking?

You can get a partner and a partner if you're in an organization. We are trying to engage people in the process of science or to get them more involved with nature, or because we're more worried about diabetes, or we're worried about inner urban violence or youth.

There's a number of different programs that we're working on. All of those programs that I just mentioned are working with us to get people involved in planting phenology gardens, doing urban restoration. Getting the gardens going, tracking the plants and animals that they've seen in those gardens that they plant.

This is an example of one of our affiliate organizations, Signs of the Seasons, in Maine. A number of different partners working together, they have about 100 observers across Maine who are partaking use in our infrastructure, partaking in Nature's Notebook.

Another example here, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center. Talking about phenology and weather observers. You're talking to future voters here and getting them involved in this process. They have a bunch of different mobile apps, etc.

You can leverage on that natural curiosity. Probably, 10 percent of you in the room here have got some phenology data set that you've been collecting on a pad of paper, on the barn door, in a shoebox, or on the fridge. That's actually quite valuable information.

Some of you actually probably have a really good data set that shows change through time right there in your own backyard. We can leverage on it.

People want to know about that. These guys want to know about it. Bob Ryan wants to know about. Spring arrives earlier in Washington, DC. You can get started right there in your own backyard, partake in Nature's Notebook and be a part of the National Phenology Network.

Thank you very much.


Title: Nature's Altered Seasons


Early cherry blossoms and flower blooms and record high temperatures nationwide highlight a phenomenon everyone already seems to know, but science has confirmed -- spring is coming earlier in the year almost everywhere. During this lecture, Dr. Jake Weltzin gives an overview of the USGS sponsored USA National Phenology Network, a national effort to help track the timing of plant and animal activity as an indicator of environmental variation and climate change. This unique project engages both professional and "citizen" scientists to document life cycles of nature. This presentation describes results of some of the research to date and explains how anyone can participate as a “citizen scientist,” tracking plants and animals in their own backyard!

Location: Reston, VA, USA

Date Taken: 5/4/2012

Length: 47:01

Video Producer: Melanie Gade , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.


For more information go to: Public Lecture Series: Science in Action

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Tags: CherryBlossom ClimateChange NationalPhenologyNetwork NaturesNotebook PublicLecture ScienceInAction SpringArival lecture phenology seasons spring


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