An increased frequency of early springs might challenge agricultural production

Very warm and early springs are still seen as rare anomalies in many places of the world. However, a new analysis with an ensemble of climate model data, executed by a team of researchers including ITC researcher Raul Zurita-Milla, shows a sharp increase in the frequency of very early springs in the USA by end of this century. Besides important ecological and social implications, this increase in very early springs might ruin agricultural production over large areas.

Young cherry trees

The high temperatures of 2012 broke many historical March maximum temperature records across the USA and led to the earliest spring since 1900. These warm temperatures brought plants out of dormancy, and the leafing and blooming of many plant species started more than one month earlier than usual. As idyllic as this might sound, many plants in the great lakes region had a difficult time when a sudden drop of temperatures took place at the beginning of April. The cold temperatures damaged natural and cultivated plant species and drastically reduced agricultural production in this part of the states. The state of Michigan alone reported more than $500 million in agricultural damage, but how likely is this to happen again?

The answer to this question can be found in a recently published article in the journal of Climate Dynamics: “Identifying anomalously early spring onsets in the CESM large ensemble project”. In this article Zack Labe (University of California, Irvine), Toby Ault (Cornell University) and Raul Zurita-Milla (University of Twente, Faculty ITC) used the spring indices models and data from the Community Earth System Model Large Ensemble (CESM) project, to simulate historical and future spring onsets over continental USA, with a focus on the Great Lakes region.

This new analysis of climate model data shows an increased frequency to nearly one in every three years by the end of this century. This means that the risk of experiencing “false springs” in temperate regions might dramatically increase in the coming decades if we do not reduce the emissions of man-made greenhouse gases, says Raul whose research group is actively working on the use of geocomputational methods to map seasonal processes and their past and future dynamics.




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