Citizen Science Project Blooms With Early Spring

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

Molly Samuel

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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