Thursday, July 12, 2012

What is Phenology?

Have you ever heard of PHENOLOGY? 

Phenology is the study of seasonal changes in plant and animal life. For example keeping a notebook of the date and location of daffodils blooming, or robins returning in the spring.

As I walked through the woods today I wished I could have uploaded photos taken with my iphone to some online database where they would be mapped to a model of earth.  I envisioned a website where one could upload time-stamped geo-tagged photos of living things and people all over the world could see these photos and use them to watch temporal fluctuations in animal migrations and plants flowering or going to seed. 

July, 12th, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT,
Latitude: 42.06873434, Longitute:79.3502757
My attempt at phenological data collection is pictured at the right. Brownie points if you can identify the butterfly species.

There have been attempts at creating a global phenological network. Project BudBurst is probably the best example. Citizen scientists are invited to log when and where they see certain flowers blooming. It is great to see this but I want more! I want to see more plants an animals recorded by a larger group of citizen scientists in a totally open access setting. The other online data base of species is E.O. Wilson's brainchild - The Encyclopedia of Life. But that database is more about cataloging all life forms on earth. A noble and useful goal but not phenology.

When looking at Google Maps you can click on buttons in the upper right corner and add photos or Wikipedia articles as pieces of meta-information overlaid on the satellite images. Is it far-fetched to expect one day there will be an additional button to add phenological data including photos, dates, and precise coordinates? If people can visualize science I think they are more likely to accept it. If we can show the world how flowers are blooming earlier and earlier due to climate change maybe they will be more likely to accept bland graphs of temperature and CO2 levels.

I had not heard of phenology until I heard Nina Leopold (daughter of naturalist and author Aldo Leopold) mention it while talking about her father (see below).

Phenology | Climate Wisconsin from ECB on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

The simple act of collecting the accurate and consistent phenological data from ones own back yard, a la Thomas Jefferson, could greatly increase our understanding of micro climate change throughout the world. Data which could be immensely powerful in predicting the best path toward food production in our ever changing world.

I love this idea!