Global warming doesn’t just mean scorching temperatures, rising sea levels and dramatic changes to wildlife populations, it also means less winter in many parts of the world, including the U.S.
According to recent research, in North America, particularly western North America, global warming will result in spring plant growth beginning around three weeks earlier by the next century.
The new study, published Wednesday 14th October, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, highlights the long term implications of the growing season of plants and the relationship between plants and the animals that depend upon them, including humans.
The research team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison used botany’s well-known extended spring indices to project the dates of leaf and flower emergence based on length of the day. These well established general models are used to capture the phenology (natural life cycles) of numerous plant species.
Of particular interest, the results of the new study suggest we are seeing especially fast shifts in plant phenology in the Pacific Northwest and the mountainous regions of the western United States, with smaller shifts in the onset of spring in the southern areas of the country (where spring already comes earlier).
Look for more “false springs”
The UWM researchers also studied so-called “false springs”, that is, when freezing temperatures strike after spring plant growth has already started. The study data suggested that we will start seeing fewer false springs in most locations across the U.S. That said, a good-sized area of the western Great Plains is actually likely to see more false springs.
“This is important as false springs can damage plant production cycles in natural and agricultural systems” explains Andrew Allstadt, an author of the study. “In some cases, an entire crop can be lost.”
More on shorter winters and earlier springs in the U.S.
“Our projections show that winter will be shorter – which sound greats great for those of us in Wisconsin”, Allstadt says. “But long distance migratory birds, for example, time their migration based on day length in their winter range. They may arrive in their breeding ground to find that the plant resources that they require are already gone.”
The research was funded by a NASA Biodiversity Grant, and aims to help researchers and others working towards conservation of public land in the U.S. Related to the public funding, the researchers are making most of their data available on their website.
Allstadt also noted the UWM team is moving forward with new research: “We are expanding our research to cover all kinds of extreme weather, including droughts and heat waves. We are particularly interested in how these affect bird populations in wildlife refuges.”
Global warming also leading to break up of glaciers
The scientific evidence that global warming is a major threat to humankind continues to mount. As reported by Valuewalk in August, Greenland’s famous Jakobshavn Glacier recently calved off a huge chunk, and experts note this event was one of the largest glacier calvings on record. On a historical note, the iceberg that sank the Titantic a century ago is believed to have calved from the Jakobshavn glacier.