natural resources

Cherry Blossoms: A Sure Sign of Spring and Maybe Climate Change

By Krystal Laymon

When I moved to the District of Columbia last spring, I couldn’t wait for the roughly 3,750 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin and many of our major national monuments to burst into bloom. Tourists and residents flock to the area every year to hurriedly snap a few photos, because these beautiful flowers have a short life cycle with a peak bloom of only a couple of days.

The bloom schedule of the cherry trees, like most plants, is phenological, which means that the timing of their bloom is dependent on the conditions of their environment. While the East Coast has experienced colder-than-normal temperatures and several inches of snow late in the season, it has not deterred this year’s cherry blossoms from blooming.

In fact, over the past 90 years, the cherry blossoms have actually been blooming earlier. The figure below presents data from the National Park Service that shows the annual peak bloom date – when 70% of the blossoms are in full bloom – for these cherry trees from 1921-2014. Look at the black line that helps to show the trajectory of change in that peak bloom date over time. It shows that, since 1921, peak bloom dates have shifted earlier by approximately 5 days. This is due to in part to increasing average seasonal temperatures, particularly in March, over this time period. The Washington Post even performed a local temperature analysis in 2012 which showed that “Washington’s average March temperature has warmed 2.3 degrees in the last 90 years.”

Tracking cherry blossom bloom trends isn’t just important for scheduling the District’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Indicators of the start of spring, like leaf and bloom dates, will become increasingly important for determining how climate change may affect seasonal patterns, and for tracking related impacts on ecosystems and natural resources.

This March in DC, we’ve experienced some cold sweeps, and as a result this year’s projected peak bloom date of April 11-14 is later than expected. However, this short-term blip belies the longer-term pattern of longer growing seasons and earlier bloom times – which is a key concept to understand when it comes to climate change. Year-to-year, seasonal occurrences such as bloom times or thaws may vary widely, but the long term trends tell the real story — and this national treasure is telling us by opening its petals, and blooming.

Peak Bloom Date for Cherry Trees Around Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin, 1921–2014
Data source: National Park Service, 2014

About the author: Krystal Laymon is a former ORISE Fellow in EPA’s Climate Change Division. She has a background in environmental policy and communications. Krystal received her Master in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University and currently resides in Washington, DC with a turtle named Ollie.

 

National Park Service. 2013. Bloom schedule. Accessed December 6, 2013. www.nps.gov/cherry/cherry-blossom-bloom.htm.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Invasive Species Awareness Week Kicks Off This Week: Get Involved With Long Island Sound Stewardship Days

By Victoria O’Neill and Mark A. Tedesco

Volunteers help remove invasive plants from a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area as part of a volunteer Stewardship Day in 2012. Photo credit: Larissa Graham.

Volunteers help remove invasive plants from a Long Island Sound Stewardship Area as part of a volunteer Stewardship Day in 2012. Photo credit: Larissa Graham.

Look out fellow New Yorkers! We’re under invasion! Invasive species are everywhere.

An invasive species is an organism that is not native to an ecosystem and can have detrimental effects on the environment, the economy, and even human health. Invasive species can be plant or animal, can come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found on land, sea, or air. Human activity is the primary reason for the spread of invasive species. People can accidentally or intentionally spread species through the use of ornamental plants, the pet trade, ballast water in ships, and through cargo.

Luckily, there is a group solely focused on the prevention, eradication, and management of invasive species. The New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse has focused on all things related to invasive species since 2008. To learn more about the Clearinghouse, click here: http://www.nyis.info/?action=identification

Stop the Invasion - Protect New York From Invasive SpeciesThis year, New York Invasive Species Clearinghouse partners are hosting the first annual Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) during July 6-12, 2014. ISAW’s mission is to promote knowledge of invasive species to help stop their spread by engaging citizens in a wide range of activities across the state and encouraging them to take action. Several free events are taking place during the week throughout the state.

Recognizing the threat that invasive species have on the quality of the coastal habitats of Long Island Sound, the Long Island Sound Study (LISS) and its partners, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, & Historic Preservation and Town of Brookhaven, have stepped up to the challenge and will host three Stewardship Days focused on invasive plant species removal during ISAW. Stewardship Days are volunteer opportunities at LISS Stewardship Sites, sites designated as holding ecological and recreational importance to the LIS estuary. LISS Stewardship Day events during ISAW will take place on July 10 at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook, NY, and July 11 and July 12 at Caumsett State Park in Huntington, NY. Our target species will be Perennial Pepperweed at West Meadow Beach and Swallowwort at Caumsett State Park. Aside from invasive species removal events, upcoming Stewardship Day events this year will include beach clean-ups, native planting, and native seed collection events.

Calling all New Yorkers, near and far, to action against these invaders! Grab your gardening gloves and favorite trowel and join us at one of our ISAW events! To find out more about the LISS Stewardship Day events during ISAW and to register for the events, visit the LISS website:  http://longislandsoundstudy.net/2014/06/volunteer-stewardship-days-this-july/

To find out more about other ISAW and ISAW events in other areas, visit: http://www.nyis.info/blog/

About the Authors: Victoria O’Neill is the New York Habitat Restoration Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study. She works for the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission and is housed in the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Habitat Protection in East Setauket, NY.

Mark Tedesco is director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office. The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by the EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator, in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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American Fellow in Costa Rica

By Nesmarie Negron

Last November, I traded in my NYC commuter shoes for my hiking boots and embarked upon a Central American adventure to help address water quality issues in Costa Rica.   I spent two months working in San Jose, as part of the American Fellows Program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State and promotes the exchange of professionals throughout Latin America.

Facing many of the same water quality challenges as the U.S., the Costa Rican Ministry of the Environment (MINAET) was interested in learning about our regulatory and voluntary framework for addressing surface water contamination (the Clean Water Act), guidelines for developing watershed plans to restore and protect waters, and nonpoint source initiatives in Puerto Rico which could also be implemented in Costa Rica to address nutrient and pathogen contamination in water bodies. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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