Spring Dreams of Cherry Blossoms and Melting Ice

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn


Heading into Easter weekend, snow seems to have given way to rain across much of the U.S. It’s not too soon for many in the Northeast U.S., who after being buried under two-plus feet of snow by the February blizzard, have grown weary of repeated weekend snow storms that marked late winter.

With April 1 falling right on the heels of Easter, we don’t want to be fooled into false hope of spring’s arrival.

While cherry blossoms in the nation’s Capitol made an early appearance in 2012, the pink flurry of blossoms is not expected to peak this year until early April (current projection is April 3-6) – more typical timing.

Not so in Japan, whose people made a gift of the cherry trees to Washington, D.C. in 1912. In Tokyo, the cherry trees are blooming earlier than ever this year, due to unusually warm temperatures.

Of course as we note the timing of spring harbingers amid a warming climate, any one blooming season should not be considered in isolation. But scientists continue to study larger trends over time. One focus is “Arctic amplification,” the phenomenon of more rapid climate change at the pole compared to other areas of the hemisphere, and how changes in sea ice may affect weather patterns.

Scientists in one study link dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice to extremes both hot and cold. The research examines how slower moving systems “…enhance the probability for extreme weather due to drought, flooding, cold spells, and heat waves.” As the authors write, “In summary … this study provides evidence supporting two hypothesized mechanisms by which Arctic amplification – enhanced Arctic warming relative to that in mid-latitudes – may cause more persistent weather patterns in mid-latitudes that can lead to extreme weather.”

Other research suggests that our changing climate may not only affect the timing of spring blooms, but also the fruit of cherry trees and other orchard crops.

Many fruit and nut trees require a certain period of “winter chill” in order to blossom and produce maximum crop yields. Nature Conservancy climate scientist Evan Girvetz, co-authored a study that found many of the world’s prime growing regions for fruits and nuts, such as South Africa, southern Australia and California’s Central Valley, may no longer provide cold enough winter temperatures to maintain these crops in the future. Growers may need to adapt their practices or move their orchards northward into cooler zones.

So, fruit trees may need the chill, but we’ve had enough. Here’s hoping for some seasonable spring weather suitable for hunting eggs and wearing bonnets.

Lisa Hayden is a writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by Flickr user GetHiroshima (Cherry blossoms in Hiroshima, Japan. Used under a Creative Commons license.)

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