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Phenology sightings play a key role in new US Climate Assessment

Bird migration

Shifts in the timing of seasonal migrations are an important impact of climate change. Photo by ashokboghani/CC BY.

10 June 2014

By Kevin Grunewald

On May 5th, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released its third National Climate Assessment. This rigorously reviewed, pivotal scientific assessment comes out once every four years, as mandated in 1990 by the Global Change Research Act. In the USGCRP’s words, the report “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.”

In its confirmation that climate change is affecting every region in the United States in a variety of sectors, the National Climate Assessment acknowledges the significance of phenological research. Within the Ecosystems section the report recognises marked shifts in the timing of biological events, as indicated by monitoring changes in seasonal phenology, as an important indication of the profound impact of climate change on the natural world.

"There is very high confidence that the timing of critical events, such as spring bud burst, emergence from overwintering, and the start of migrations, has shifted, leading to important impacts on species and habitats."

The assessment cites reports by the U.S. National Phenology Network in its findings, a group that partners with citizen scientists to collect phenology information, and notes that additional phenological research is still required. Specifically, the report identifies the need to understand consequences of potential “phase effects” – a term used to describe the situation in which species become so out of sync with their natural phenology that outbreaks of pests, instances of species starvation or disruption of valuable pollination services occur.

This pivotal report is an example of how phenological data, like the data generated by ClimateWatch user observations, can lead to advancements toward our understanding of how climate change is affecting the world around us. Through citizen contributions, we can develop the scientific body of knowledge that is necessary to inform sound management and policy decisions that act to preserve our ecosystems.

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