Science Monday, May 14, 2012
Earlier blooming Palisade orchards
might be sign of climate change
It was already well-known that climate change was causing earlier springs and thus shifts in when plants produce new flowers and leaves, but a new study based on observations from four continents has found that those shifts are even more dramatic than had been known.
Previous experiments that have tried to simulate the effects of climate change on plants have underpredicted the degree to which a warming planet is advancing when plants flower and leaf by 8.5- and four-fold, respectively, according to the observations of a 22-institution research team, which published its findings in the May 2 issue of the journal Nature.
This new data on how changes in annual plant events, or phenology, are being influenced by climatic changes are expected to influence modelling of how plants will be affected under future climate change — and thus have broad implications on fields such as agriculture and water supply.
David Inouye, a plant biologist not involved in the recent study, has been studying plots of wildflowers around the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic since the 1970s. At 9,500 feet, where blooms used to occur in May or June, they are now occurring as early as April, he said in an interview last month.
“One of those losers is people like me who enjoy apricots and cherries,” he said, explaining that orchards in Paonia and Palisade have seen less fruit in recent years as trees are blossoming earlier, sometimes before the last frost, meaning a surprise death-by-frost for many of those blossoms.
Meanwhile, back at the lab…
■ Moose, deer and other large herbivorous mammals have exploded above historic levels throughout the entire Northern Hemisphere as predator populations have declined, contributing to deforestation and reducing biodiversity. The large herbivores are six times more prevalent in areas without wolves versus those where wolves are still present. The study, by scientists from Oregon State University, also found that combinations of two predator populations — such as wolves and bears — can best keep herbivore populations under control and that hunting by humans is not effective at keeping those populations in check.
■ A study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder earlier this year found hail could all but disappear along the Front Range by 2070 as climate change warms the atmosphere. The hail that typically falls above 7,000 feet during the summer months would melt as it falls through the warmer air, saving some crops from being battered but also raising the risk of flash floods.
■ The gap between the superhero technology in “The Avengers” and real life is rapidly closing, says Suveen Mathaudhu, a materials scientist and program manager within the U.S. Army’s Research Office, in the journal of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society: “Through high-end microscopy tools, we can visualize and manipulate the very microstructure of a material to achieve ultrahigh strength and other truly amazing characteristics.” He recently issued a request for white papers on the making of super-strong materials, a search inspired in part by Captain America’s shield.