by Janet Ritz
Forty-six years ago, author Rachel Carson's seminal work, SILENT SPRING, alerted the world of damage to the environment by the pesticide DDT. It is a book that is widely considered to be the genesis of modern environmental movement and that may be true, as it raised public awareness as to the dangers of pollution to the eco-system.
Now, a new kind of silent spring is upon us; an early spring that is so confusing to vulnerable plant and wildlife that many may not survive its untimely arrival.
"The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.The science of biological timing, known as phenology, has been impacted to the point where the "federal government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that last fall they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey."
Blame global warming.
The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.
"Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena. The word is derived from the Greek phainomai (φαινομαι)- to appear, come into view, and indicates that phenology has been principally concerned with the dates of first occurrence of natural events in their annual cycle. ~snip~ Because many such phenomena are very sensitive to small variations in climate, especially to temperature, phenological records can be a useful proxy for temperature in historical climatology, especially in the study of climate change and global warming."
There are species that may become extinct with the changes, including swallows, robins, a range of butterflies and insects, many of which hatch or grow too early, fooled by the warmer weather, only to be killed when a cold snap appears before the new life is strong enough to survive.
Changes in rainfall patterns could make an impact, as well; causing caterpillars to dry and die out before they can metamorphosize into butterflies.
For humans, a warmer season means more allergies due to an increase in pollen:
"For wind-pollinated plants, it's probably the strongest signal we have yet of climate change," said University of Massachusetts professor of aerobiology Christine Rogers. "It's a huge health impact. Seventeen percent of the American population is allergic to pollen."
This could seem confusing to some who have been impacted by the cold winter that has been experienced in parts of the northern hemisphere. That may be explained, however, by the La Nina effect forecasted by the British Met Office as part of its 2008 temperature prediction. There are other indicators of impact to the climate; the loss of viability to the Southern Ocean as a carbon sink being one indicator, the current floods in the midwest and south U.S., the tropical storm that raged over central Europe a few weeks ago, the IPCC reports that warned of it all.
This year, though, it's the early red maple that's creating buzz, as well as sniffles. A New Jersey conservationist posted an urgent message on a biology listserv on Feb. 1 about the early blooming. A 2001 study found that since 1970, that tree is blossoming on average at least 19 days earlier in Washington, D.C.
We will all have to adjust to a new climate reality. For humans, who carry the responsibility for these changes, there is, at least, an awareness of the danger. For the birds and the bees and butterflies and the flowers and the trees, there is the burden of the threat to their very existence, coupled by their confusion as to why it is happening to them, at all.
LABELS: CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, STORMCHASER, USGS