Climate Change Will Bring Spring Three Weeks Earlier In U.S., According To New Study

Climate change will drive an increase in temperatures in the coming years that, according to new research, will result in spring arriving in the United States much earlier than we’re used to.

Spring isn’t defined in exactly the same way everywhere in the world, but in the United States, it’s typically said to begin on the vernal equinox during the month of March. That won’t change, but the ecological start of spring will, according to research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, researchers found that plants have started to grow earlier and earlier in the year over the last few decades. This change was attributed to a rise in global temperatures.

According to Discovery News, the researchers used the Spring Indices to extrapolate leaf and flower emergence, or the ecological start of spring, for the rest of this century.

According to their extrapolation, spring will come about 23 days earlier by the end of the century.

Discovery News reports that the shift will be more dramatic in some areas than others. While three weeks represents the median change, areas in the Pacific Northwest will see much earlier springs than southern areas of the United States.

Many residents of the Pacific Northwest would no doubt welcome earlier springs. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, among other sources, seasonal affective disorder is particularly common in the region, so shorter winters would probably be seen as a good thing.

Of course, this new research only points to an earlier ecological start to spring. Warmer days may make the trees and the flowers bloom earlier, but the lack of sunlight in northern regions won’t change.

Even if warmer days does sound like a good thing, NBC News reports that researchers caution that it could be devastating for wildlife.

“Our projections show that winter will be shorter — which sounds great for those of us in Wisconsin,” Andrew Allstadt, one of the University of Wisconsin researchers said via a press release. “But long-distance migratory birds, for example, time their migration based on day length in their winter range. They may arrive in their breeding range to find that the plant resources that they require are already gone.”

Migratory birds could face problems from early springs. [Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Animals may be able to make corrections over the 80 plus years covered in the extrapolation, or they may end up in the genetic dustbin of history, along with countless other extinct species.

The study also cautions against the potential rise of “false springs,” which are early warm periods followed by sudden cold snaps.

“Many plants are resistant to cold weather while dormant through the winter. However, sub-freezing temperatures after spring onset can damage vulnerable plant tissue, and reproductive growth stages later in spring typically make plants more susceptible to damage from cold.”

According to Discovery News, the incidence of false springs will vary based on location, just like the variation seen in early springs. Although most of the United States will experience a lower number of false springs over the remainder of the century, some parts of the Great Plains will see far more.

Flowers could bloom three weeks earlier over the next century, according to new research. [Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol]

NBC News reports that the researchers admitted that the complicated nature of climate change makes it difficult to say exactly how specific areas will be affected in a study like this. While their projections put the median shift at 23 days, some areas, including the Great Plains, could actually see later springs, while other areas see spring come much earlier.

Some climate change models have proven woefully inaccurate over the years, and most of us will be quite old by the time this one resolves, if we’re even alive at all. Do you think there’s anything to the idea that climate change is going to make spring come three weeks earlier?

[Photo credit: Miramiska / Shutterstock]