CURWOOD: You may be more than ready for this winter to end, and while you look for signs of spring, you might want to lend science a hand. What you do is join Project Budburst, linked to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. Their website will allow you to log on and document the emergence of flowers and foliage to track climate change. Among the creators of the website is Dr. Kay Havens, director of plant science and conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden. She joins us now from her office in Glencoe, IL.
Welcome to Living on Earth, Dr. Havens.
HAVENS: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: So what can blooming flowers tell us about climate change?
HAVENS: Well plants can serve as quite sensitive climate sensors. Many plants species respond to temperature — by the time they leaf out or the time they flower — during the year. And so by looking at bloom time and leaf time that gives us a good indication of whether or not the temperature is changing in an area.
CURWOOD: So, what prompted you to come up with this website — Project BudBurst — where just about anyone can log in and document when the flowers bloom in their yard or anywhere they care to look I would gather.
HAVENS: Well Project BudBust is a collaborative effort between the Chicago Botanic Garden, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and the University of Montana. We're all members of something called the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events so things like "When do plants bloom? When do birds migrate?" and we came up with idea of Project BudBurst. And Project BudBurst engages the public — anyone from kids up to senior citizens to look at when plants are flowering in their yard or their natural area and report that on a website.
CURWOOD: And an opportunity to become a phenologist, right?
HAVENS: That's correct!
CURWOOD: So, how does this website work — I mean how could one of our listeners get involved in this?
HAVENS: You can sign in and become a BudBurst member and record your location. And after that you can look at species guides, decide which species you want to monitor, watch them in your own yard and then log in and tell us the day that they first come into bloom, or you see the first leaf or you see the first fruit.
CURWOOD: So how would this data — collected by citizens and then from them — how's this going to be used in the larger study of climate change?
HAVENS: Well, we at the Garden and a number of other scientists are modeling how plants will respond to climate change. So we want to know: what climate envelopes do plant species survive in, as the climate changes where might they need to migrate to? And so getting data on bloom time is very valuable to use in these modeling efforts.
CURWOOD: Now, to what extent do you have schools involved in this?
HAVENS: We have a lot of school groups who participate. In our pilot year we had over 900 observations submitted and of those, nearly two thirds were done by children under 12.
CURWOOD: So this is not just citizen science, this is kid science!
HAVENS: This is kid science! Yeah, and we're thrilled to be really engaging kids in collecting data that is important and useful.
CURWOOD: Now I imagine you're too busy at this Chicago Botanic Garden to have your own garden.
HAVENS: [LAUGHS] I have a small garden.
CURWOOD: [LAUGHS] So what's your favorite flower or vegetable for that matter that you grow in your garden and how has its blooming pattern changed over the years?
HAVENS: Oh gosh, that's a tough one. I did submit data on Dogtooth Violet and Bluebells last year — out of my own garden — two of my favorite little native spring wildflowers. And I have noticed over the years the springs are coming earlier and getting warmer and those plants are blooming earlier.
CURWOOD: Dr. Kay Havens is the director of plant science and conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Which helps run the website Project BudBurst.
Thank you so much Dr. Havens.
HAVENS: Thank you and enjoy spring!
CURWOOD: I will a little bit sooner then I would have last year.
HAVENS: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
CURWOOD: And you can find a link to Project BudBurst through the Living on Earth website www.loe.org.