Bloodroot blooming – one of the earliest spring wildflowers. Photo credit: John Smith
Red maple flowers were opening, and leaves were just beginning to burst from their buds. Photo credit: John Smith
Lady ferns showing their fiddleheads. Photo credit: John Smith
Want to know about the impacts of climate change in your community? Talk to a phenologist (that is: someone who studies events happening in nature). While “global warming”, as a term, is going out of favor because it’s describing things happening at an intangible, global scale, “climate change” seems to get closer to home, leaving room for regional complexities. But, what do we call it when we zoom in even closer – like, to our state, biome or even hyper-local neighborhood environment?
Last week I attended the annual gathering of the Minnesota Phenology Network (MNPN). They are an informal group of dedicated people who observe nature in all regions of our varied state. Each year, these phenologists (along with others around the world) keep record of bird migration, lake ice melt, the arrival of new species in their area and the disappearance of familiar others. They track anything they want. Their data often represents valuable information, stories and photographs about long-term patterns of place. And increasingly, it’s being captured for more scientific purposes.
At the MNPN Gathering, a group of esearchers from the University of Minnesota presented a new platform on which people from throughout the state can quickly upload observations into a database in a uniform way. Because, as you might imagine, each phenologist tends to take notes in their own unique way, and they record about whatever they please. First sighting of a adult green darner? Wood ducks jumping from their tree nests? These are exciting events – but what if you are the only one keeping records on them? Wouldn’t it be more valuable if everyone was tracking some of the same species along with a list of specific behaviors, or phases to watch for? These are real challenges faced by any citizen science effort. The MN Phenology Network is taking it on together and in a way that will provide Minnesotans credible information about how this place we call home is changing.
In the end, maybe that is the best new term for climate change: place change. Climate change is having on-the-ground-effects already, and the more we can do to make it a cause that we can feel and witness, the easier it will be to move people to take actions that will protect the long-term heath of our home.
To get involved with the citizen-science efforts of the MN Phenology Network, or simply to learn more about what’s happening around our lovely state, contact the MN Phenology Network.