USA NPN National Phenology Network

Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

You are here

The USA-NPN, phenology, and our partners are often in the news. Follow some recent stories below.

Image credit:
Sara N. Schaffer

News

  • 2023 Heat Accumulation vs. Rodent Prognostication
    Thursday, February 2, 2023

    Groundhog Day 2023 Seasonal Story thumbnailThe cyclical annual life stages of plants and animals are tied to environmental and climatic factors. Marmota monax, also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig, and most affectionately, a groundhog, is no exception. Over the winter when temperatures drop and food is less available, groundhogs enter hibernation, slowing down their metabolism in order to conserve energy. Typically, groundhogs emerge from their dens in March, however, every February 2nd, we wait with baited breath to see if Punxatawny Phil will either see his shadow and predict 6 more weeks of winter, or fail to see his shadow and predict an early spring.

    This year, the prognosticator of prognosticators did indeed see his shadow, but do the climate data match his predictions? The map below shows more heat has accumulated  than usual across much of the eastern US this spring, and even much warmer than usual in some parts of the Southeast. In the West, heat accumulation is ahead of schedule in lower elevations and behind schedule at higher elevations. In the Midwest, heat accumulation is ahead of schedule in the lower Midwest and on time in the northern part of the region. In the Northeast, heat accumulation is occurring at a typical pace. In the coming months, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts cooler, wetter conditions in the Northwest, dryer, warmer conditions in the Southwest, average temperatures and rainfall in the Midwest, warmer temperatures and below average rainfall in the Southeast, and warmer temperatures and average rainfall for the Northeast.

    If you want to learn even more about when spring may be arriving  in your area, follow along with the Status of Spring as it spreads across the country.

    2023 Groundhog Day graphic

  • Timing is Everything when it comes to managing invasive species
    Monday, September 19, 2022

    2022 Summer Seasonal Story on buffelgrass green up to seed set timing

  • 30 Million Phenology Records collected by Nature's Notebook observers
    Tuesday, August 9, 2022

    This week, we reached a significant new milestone - thirty million phenology records submitted to the National Phenology Database! The 30 millionth record was collected via Nature’s Notebook, the USA-NPN’s plant and animal phenology data collection platform, by Nika Gonzaga, a freshman in Desert View High School's Honors Biology Program in Tucson, Arizona. Nika observed young leaves on a desert willow tree. Nika said "as a freshman, this is my first time ever gathering research like this. It was enjoyable and a very simple task. I hope to do more research on other plants." 

    High school student observes a desert willow tree, Credit: Cynthia Uber

    Nika's teacher, Cynthia Uber, said "My students enjoy taking a break from the classroom and going outside to the Phenology Trail we have on our High School Campus. They love using the Nature's Notebook app as it makes reporting their observations easier and quicker. We are using the data to see how climate change is affecting the species we have on our campus."

    According to USA-NPN Director Theresa Crimmins, “reaching 30 million records speaks to the depth of USA-NPN’s engagement as well as the incredible commitment among tens of thousands of professional and volunteer observers and partners across the country.” Nature’s Notebook observers track local changes in plants and animals, motivated by their desire to contribute to a national effort, learn the intricacies of species they observe, and collect valuable data that are used by scientists and decision makers. Jan Schwartz is an observer with Pima County Master Naturalists who is tracking invasive buffelgrass. “I love the diverse flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, and we need to learn how to control invasive buffelgrass so that it doesn’t wipe out this diversity. My hope is that the data I collect at Tucson's Mission Garden will inform managers exactly when to remove buffelgrass.”

    Over 500 groups have contributed phenology observations to Nature’s Notebook, including National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, Audubon chapters, Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, and botanical gardens and arboretums, nature centers, universities, and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). These data have been crucial to understanding changes in the timing of seasonal events in plants and animals in response to changing climate conditions and other pressures. Jody Einerson, a Local Phenology Leader with the Oregon Season Tracker program said, “Oregon Season Tracker volunteers gather plant phenology and precipitation data at their home, rural property, or local schoolyard. The data are used by Oregon and national researchers to better understand weather, climate, and native plant interactions.”

    A family observes a plant in the forest, Photo: Brian F. Powell

    The data in the National Phenology Database are used in diverse applications including natural resource management, threatened and endangered species management, forestry and agriculture, human health, and tourism. A recent paper in BioScience authored by USA-NPN staff and colleagues demonstrates the breadth of research and decisions that are made possible by these data. According to partner Scott Richardson with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “the NPN provides us with cutting edge information to inform the work we do to conserve and recover species. By partnering with NPN, we have access to greater quantities of information covering a broader geographic scope that would be possible on our own.”

    “This milestone gives us a chance to reflect on the current strengths of the dataset and also what changes we might consider going forward,” Theresa said. “For example, how can the USA-NPN best support pressing science and climate change questions and societal needs? We are excited about emerging opportunities for the phenology data the USA-NPN curates, such as predicting the timing and severity of allergy season and providing guidance on plant selection for those working on pollinator restoration. There is so much potential for phenology to make a difference in these and other areas.”

    30 Million Records Milestone infographic

  • It's the new (climate) normal!
    Sunday, March 20, 2022

    Climate normals are 30-year averages of weather data that provide a baseline to compare current weather. NOAA recently updated this average to the most recent 3 decades - what does this mean for our maps of spring?

    Normals are long-term average climate products - they exist so we can compare today's weather to the long term average - for example, to find out if this January is colder than "normal." Since temperatures have been rising decade by decade, the period of comparison matters in showing the difference between current conditions and “normal.”

    Each time we enter a new decade, NOAA updates the suite of standard temperature products to the most recent 3-decade period. They recently moved from the 1981-2010 climate normal period to the 1991-2020 period. Even though ⅔ of the years are the same for the new period, the period of 2010-20 can make a large difference. Climate Central took NOAA's products a step further, showing how seasonal average temperatures have shifted from the prior to the current climate normal period.

    We just updated our spring leaf out and bloom maps to use the new 1991-2020 normal period. In most of the country, spring is coming earlier in the most recent 3 decades compared to prior normal period.

    Comparison of spring leaf out with old vs new climate normals

    How does this relate to climate change? Climate change is best detected through long term (50+ year) trends in temperatures - as done here for the National Climate Assessment. However, looking at the difference between the start of spring in the two normal periods, we see what we'd expect with climate change: Spring is coming earlier in much of the country.

    Keep following our Status of Spring page to see how spring leaf out and bloom unfold across the country. 

  • 2022 Heat Accumulation vs. Rodent Prognostication
    Wednesday, February 2, 2022

    Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter! However, our maps of heat accumulation provide a more scientific look at how much heat has accumulated so far this year, and what's next. Heat accumulation is ahead of schedule in the Southeast and parts of the West and Great Plains, behind schedule in other parts of the West and southern Midwest states. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts warmer than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation in the Southwest and Southeast, below average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Northwest, and above average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Midwest and Northeast. 

    Groundhog Day 2022 Seasonal Story

    And Nature's Notebook observers are already seeing early spring activity including breaking leaf buds, initial growth, and open flowers on several species across the country. Explore which species are showing activity in the dashboard below.

Pages