The Ticking Clock
A bonus feature from my October column “Understand Science and Believe in Action“
Steve Hamburg is delighted to talk about backyards. EDF’s chief scientist pulls out a chart covered with the harvest notes of a maple syrup farmer in New Hampshire; he has been keeping detailed records since 1959. “These notes are a treasure,” he says. “We’re organizing an exhibit about how global warming will affect people locally, where they live, and this will be part of it.”
“This farmer didn’t think his trees had been affected by a change in climate,” he says. “He couldn’t see the pattern because he was distracted by all the noise—the annual details of weather, snowfall, production. We analyzed his production numbers and what we saw quite clearly was that by 2003 he is producing syrup much earlier in the season, a product of operating with one month less of snow cover every year. He’s still getting lots of syrup, but only because his technology is much better now. The sap isn’t running at peak for as long as it used to. He’s getting less productive time, later in the spring. And pretty soon the maples won’t have enough cold weather to produce much of anything at all.”
You can look at a map of sugar maple trees and see that they are marching northward; it is a matter of time before maple syrup becomes exclusively a Canadian export. “And after Canada? Eventually, there is nowhere to go.” The same is true for blueberries and cranberries; it is hard to imagine New England without the brilliant fall colors that all these plants provide. Lobster ranges are changing; spruce is declining. “I never used to see ticks at my cabin in New Hampshire,” Hamburg says. “Now we’re crawling with them.”
The exhibit Hamburg is organizing, with funding from EDF and the National Science Foundation, will address climate change in the northeast, and will open in November at the Ecoterium in Worcester, Mass. Next there will be a traveling exhibit in North Carolina and hopefully exhibits on the local effects of climate change for the rest of the U.S. as well.
What You Can Do
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