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Volunteers needed to track climate change

Program designed for people interested in participating in science

Posted: March 8, 2009 1:22 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2009 4:30 a.m.

In some areas, climate changes have already imperiled several species, including some wildflowers that have disappeared.

Always wanted to be a meteorologist? Want to find out first-hand about the effects of climate change on plants and animals - including humans - from your own back yard? Here's your big opportunity.

Volunteers in the Santa Clarita Valley and across the nation are signing up via the Internet to get off the couch and head outdoors in their local communities to help track how seasonal climate changes affect the way plants grow and animals behave.

Citizen weather-watchers who contribute their observations of flowering, fruiting and other seasonal events are part of a new Internet-based program launched by the USA-National Phenology Network, a consortium of government, academic and citizen-scientists. Using this information, scientists and resource managers can better track effects of climate change on the Earth's intricate life-support systems.

"This program is designed for people interested in participating in climate change science, not just reading about it," said Jake Weltzin, the network's executive director and a U.S. Geological Survey scientist. "We encourage everyone to sign up at and then go outside and observe the marvelous cycles of plant and animal life."

Phenology is the study of the seasonal cycles of plants sprouting, flowering and bearing fruit, and animals reproducing, migrating and hibernating. Changes in these patterns, caused by climate change or other factors, can significantly affect human economies and health.

In some areas, such changes have already imperiled species, among them some of the wildflowers that have disappeared from the banks of Walden Pond, home of the famed 19th-century naturalist Henry David Thoreau.

The USA-NPN monitoring program harnesses the power of people and the Internet to vastly increase the data available to scientists and the public alike, Weltzin said. The program provides easy-to-use methods to track the life cycles of nearly 200 species of plants and will begin monitoring animals next year.

Mark D. Schwartz, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and chair of the USA-NPN board of directors, said monitoring changes in seasonal events across large areas helps researchers forecast the effects of global climate change on plants, animals and ecosystems.

Among other uses, data collected by USA-NPN will help resource managers predict wildfires and pollen production, detect and control invasive species, monitor droughts, and assess the vulnerability of various plant and animal species to climate change.


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