Citizen Science Project Blooms With Early Spring

Contributions to Nature’s Notebook have surged since spring has sprung

Tracking of when flowers bloom--and how the date changes over time--can help provide insight into how they're affected by weather and climate change.

The participative science project known as Nature’s Notebook is closing in on its one-millionth observation. The crowd-sourced program collects data from across the country on the timing of natural events like plants flowering, leaves growing and eggs hatching. The study of those seasonal life stages, called phenology, gives scientists insight into how they’re connected to each other, and how they’re affected by climate and weather.

Jake Weltzin, the executive director of the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), which manages Nature’s Notebook, said he thinks that spring arriving ahead of schedule across much of the country has sparked people’s interest.

“The early spring got people excited,” he told me. “They’re wondering what’s going on.” Weltzin said he and the USA-NPN staff noticed that they were approaching the one-million mark much faster than they thought they would. “We’re gaining 5,000 observations a day,” he said. They had planned to send out a press release before hitting one million observations, but they may not have the time. “We’re just hanging on for dear life.”

Weltzin says this type of data is important because it can provide long-term information on plants and animals that eat them. If the timing of their life cycles is changing due to climate change, he says, we need to learn what impacts that could have, and how — and if — humans can help them adapt.

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Citizen Science Project Blooms With Early Spring 3 April,2012Molly Samuel


Molly Samuel

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.

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