Science for Everyone

climate change

Monitoring Phenology on Hurricane Island

Post by Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

Newly broken leaves on the Horse chestnut. Taken May 15, 2015 

Since arriving on Hurricane earlier this month, I have been focusing on the phenology, or what I like to call the FUNology, of Hurricane Island.  Phenology is the study of the timing of events in the growth and life cycles of plants and animals.  When we monitor phenology, we are observing and recording the seasonal changes that occur in the natural world. In this day and age, when climate change is at the forefront of the scientific community, it is becoming more and more important to regularly record changes because overtime those data can unveil larger trends like flowers blooming a day earlier each year or birds arriving weeks earlier than they did in the past.  While it may not sound like the most exciting thing to do, monitoring the phenological changes happening around us opens up an entire new world of discovery and brings awareness to how climate change is impacting our own backyards.

First blooms on the Horse chestnut, taken June 3, 2015

Last year, we established four phenology monitoring sites on the island.  One in the flywheel field, one near the Ice Pond, one at Gibbon’s Point, and one by the lab.  At each site we have designated plants that we go to regularly and record observations for.  The species we monitor include trees such as red spruce, balsam fir, apple, and quaking aspens; shrubs like red-berried elderberry, snowberry, lilac, and beach rose; and wildflowers including orange hawkweed, starflower, beach pea, and Canada mayflower.  Some of the key phenological changes we monitor in plants are when leaf buds break, when flowers bloom, when fruits are produced, and when leaves begin to fall off.

This year, we have made some tweaks to improve our phenology monitoring, and in order to have time to make more frequent observations at the other sites, I decided to eliminate the flywheel monitoring site.  In addition to adding a few new plants, we have also started monitoring the phenological changes of birds on the island.  As you probably know, many of the birds that call Hurricane home during the summer migrate south for the winter.  By going out every few days to each phenology site, identifying and counting birds heard or seen nearby, and recording behavioral observations we get a better idea of how bird populations fluctuate throughout the seasons – what species arrive when, when chicks begin to fledge, when species leave for the season, etc. 

By collecting the same data every year on the same individual plants and monitoring birds at the same spots, over time we will have a huge database of phenological information that we can use to monitor long term changes in the life cycles of plants and animals on Hurricane.

All of the phenology observations we collect are entered on Nature’s Notebook, an online database of phenological changes across the United States.   Data entered onto this website is also used by scientists around the globe for phenology research.  Nature's Notebook has a great app available for iPhones and Androids, as well as a website, where you can start your own phenology monitoring sites or trails.  So get out there and enjoy this beautiful world we live in while also collecting valuable data to help scientists!

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Climate Change Discussed at the 40th Fishermen's Forum

One of the annual highlights in March in Maine is the Fishermen's Forum, a 3-day event that includes seminars, a trade show, and different evening events such as a seafood dinner and auction. This March marked the event's 40th year, which is a testament to the importance of fisheries to Maine's economy and community identity. This is the 3rd year Hurricane Island has had a booth and attended seminars at the event, and we always look forward to meeting new people and learning more about the hot-button issues in Maine fisheries. On Saturday, March 7, 2015 I attended a session co-hosted by the Island Institute and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) entitled “Forecasts, Tools, and Research to support Fisheries in Adapting to a Rapidly Changing Gulf of Maine." Speakers included staff from the Island Institute, GMRI, NERACOOS (Northeast Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing System), and graduate students and professors from the University of Maine. The first half of the session focused on the changes that have been happening over the last few years in terms of warming waters and the resulting effects on oceanographic and biological processes, such as the earlier timing of the lobster shed following the Gulf of Maine "heat wave" in 2012 and the timing and strength of the spring and fall plankton blooms. Andy Pershing, GMRI Chief Scientific Officer, concluded that we can expect to see colder winters and warmer summers and falls which will continue to contribute to the overall warming trend in water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine. Dr. Pershing's model predicts that the result of warming temperatures will likely lead to lower cod recruitment and greater lobster landings. 

During the second half of the three-hour session, presenters highlighted tools that exist or are being developed to help individuals track change at various spatial and temporal scales. One notable tool is GMRI's climate dashboard and model to forecast the start of the summer lobster shed based on water temperature data. Another model presented during the session was a lobster landings forecasting model developed by one of our science advisors, Noah Oppenheim, as part of his graduate work. Noah's model predicts regional landings based on data from the New England Lobster Settlement Index and other sources. Finally, NERACOOS offers a wealth of data that is easily accessible through the real time data portal where you can compare daily data on temperature to the average over a larger timeframe. 

All in all, the session revealed the number of organizations and individuals working to understand climate change in the Gulf of Maine and how we can support adaptation in our fisheries. I plan to incorporate information I learned during this session into my panel presentation, “Climate Change in Maine” at the first Maine Science Festival in Bangor on March 21, 2015.

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Maine Might Make Moves on Ocean Acidification!

On Monday January 13, 2014, the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee gathered testimony about a Legislative Document that would establish a formal commission to study the effects of ocean acidification and its potential effects on commercial shellfish harvested and grown along the Maine coast. You can read L.D. 1602 here. This hearing was well attended by stakeholders from all of Maine's major fisheries, scientists, environmentalists, and others.

If this measure is signed by Gov. Paul LePage, the commission would start by identifying the current gaps in knowledge about ocean acidification and make recommendations about how Maine can combat the negative effects of acidification on tourism, fisheries, and the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Check out this article in the Portland Press Herald for more information. The bill was considered on January 13, 2014 by a committee of Maine Legislators. Thanks to Rep. Michael Devin from Newcastle for introducing the measure--this could be an exciting step in the right direction for the health of the ocean!

If you want to get involved in supporting this effort, you can sign a petition here.

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