What Happens When: Phenology for KIDS

Anybody can be a phenologist. In fact, a lot of us, whether we know it or not, already are. Phenology is the study of what happens when in nature––that is, when the first crocus sprouts, when the first robin arrives, when the first dandelion blooms, when the first strawberries ripen, when the last leaf falls. All it takes to be a phenologist is a pencil and a knack for observation.

Though it sounds like a quirky little hobby, phenology nowadays is becoming more and more important. Researchers are now using phenological records from the past to study climate change. For example, Boston University scientists recently compared Henry David Thoreau’s 19th century notes on wildflower blooms, bobolink arrivals, and butternut budding to the same events today––and found that Massachusetts springs are now springing earlier. First flowering dates are now some ten days earlier than they were in Thoreau’s day, which indicates that New England has gotten warmer. Phenology, in other words, is a science for the long run, with benefits for researchers in the future.

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