Watch a tree to advance climate change research

You can help advance climate change research … simply watch a tree, or plant, and record its changes. Scientists investigating phenology – the study of seasonal biological events – can use your observations to help determine how the growing cycles of specific plants or all flora have changed over time.

early-spring-beech-wClimate change is a hot topic. You’ve likely read or heard about climate change research: Spring Coming Earlier, Study Says, a January 2009 report for National Geographic; a January 2013 report that native plants in the eastern U.S. have responded to climate warming by flowering as much as a month earlier than recorded by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau; or the two March 2014 reports, The End of Spring in a Warming World in TIME and the isciencetimes report, Fall Foliage Delayed: Studies Link Late Autumn and Early Spring to Climate Change.

Much of the research on flora changes depends on observations from those of us in the field, so to speak.

If you live in one of the New England states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, or Vermont – you can join the New England Leaf Out Project by agreeing to watch and report leaf out dates of a tree growing in your yard or nearby. The website provides a list of trees to observe. You can watch one or a few. Connecticut and other southern New England residents should start checking in mid-April and every few days after until leaf out occurs. New Englanders in more northern regions should begin observing a bit later.

Those living outside of New England can join a seasonal  Project Budburst campaign. Commit just 15 minutes of time to make a single observation and report, or more time to make regular observations and reports on leaf out, flowering, fruiting, and and leaf drop dates of common trees, shrubs, wildflowers, herbs, and grasses growing nearby.

Both programs provide instructions and identification materials to make observations easy.

beech-leaves-against-winter-sky-wI’ve participated in Project Budburst observations in previous years. This year I’ve chosen to watch one of the American beech trees growing nearby and share my observation with the New England Leaf Out Project. Beech trees often hold their leaves through winter until new leaves of spring begin to emerge, shoving old leaves out of their way.

My observation, joined with hundreds of others across New England, may just shed a bit more light on how climate change hits home.

If watching trees or plants don’t interest you, there’s many other citizen scientist programs through National Geographic, Cornell University, or The National Audubon Society.

Which have you participated in?

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