Monday, October 31, 2016

The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower


I've been interested lately in how ecology and science generally can interact with art and produce some beautiful and thought-provoking images. These phenological clocks from The Environmental Health Clinic are extremely cool. They show the timing of different phenological events (like budburst or first leaves falling) in various species for lots of different cities around the world*. It conveys really well, I think, the complexity of timing of different events that determine seasonal cycles. If we could see these clocks play out over time, it would be interesting to see not only how the timing of events changes in response to climate, but how the relative timing of events can shift.

The relative seasonal timing of things like snowmelt and peak growing season, for example, can be critical to ecosystem functioning. When snow melts too early in the boreal forests of North America, the runoff is transported or evaporates before the peak of the growing season. As a result, trees are less productive because there isn't enough water to support the creation of more biomass through photosynthesis. 

The timing of annual as opposed to hourly events creates a "longer clock" and allows us to "see" things that move too slowly for us to observe directly. The idea of a long now is a helpful one, I think, in determining where our priorities should lie. Long term ecological research sites, where observations can be made continuously over decades or longer, can provide the information we need to support the long-term perspective. Long-term, continuous observation datasets, like the famous Keeling observations from Mauna Loa, are extremely important in understanding humans' impact on the environment. Long-term observations can also come from things that naturally preserve information about the environment over long periods of time, such as ice cores or tree rings.

It's an opportunity to remember our limitations in being able to observe our surroundings. The biggest aim of science, I think, is to continually broaden our vision, and collaborations with artists can evoke that sense in scientists and non-scientists alike.

*You can submit your own observations to Nature's Clock, used to create the phenological clocks, here.

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