With the first day of spring around the corner, temperatures are beginning to rise, ice is melting, and the world around us is starting to blossom.
Scientists sometimes refer to this transition from winter to the growing season as the “vernal window,” and a new study led by the University of New Hampshire shows this window may be opening earlier and possibly for longer.
“Historically, the transition into spring is comparatively shorter than other seasons,” said Alexandra Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Earth Systems Research Center.
“You have snow melting and lots of water moving through aquatic systems, nutrients flushing through that water, soils warming up, and buds breaking on trees. Something striking happens after a very cold winter or when there’s been a lot of snow. Things seem to wake up all together, which is why spring seems to happen so quickly and can feel so dramatic.”
Their findings, published early online in the journal Global Change Biology, showed that warmer winters with less snow resulted in a longer lag time between spring events and a more protracted vernal window.
This type of changing timetable for spring may have potential ecological, social, and economic consequences that Contosta and her team are currently investigating.
Agriculture, fisheries, and even outdoor recreation activities can be highly dependent on the timing of springtime climate conditions.
A longer spring could mean a longer mud season requiring more road repairs and truck weight restrictions, a possible shift in the duration of the sugar maple season, or earlier lake thaw which might have implications with migratory birds.
The ice melts earlier, but the birds may not have returned yet, causing a delay, or lengthening, in springtime ecological events.
The researchers plan to test their conclusions with data from a larger geographic area and over longer periods.
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News source: University Of New Hampshire. The content is edited for length and style purposes.
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