Monday, June 20, 2011

An increasing risk of spring freeze damage?

An abstract of an interesting paper in Environmental Research Letters: Near-record warmth over much of the United States during March 2007 promoted early growth of crops and vegetation. A widespread arctic air outbreak followed in early April, resulting in extensive agricultural losses over much of the south-central and southeastern US. This 'false spring' event also resulted in widespread damage to newly grown tissues of native deciduous forest species, shown by previous researchers to have had measurable effects on the terrestrial carbon cycle.

The current study reconstructed the historical occurrence of false springs over most of the southeastern quarter of the conterminous US (32–39°N; 75–98°W) from 1901 to 2007 using daily maximum and minimum temperature records from 176 stations in the Global Historical Climatology Network database, and enhanced vegetation index (EVI) data derived from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite observations.

A false spring index was derived that examined the timing of the start of the growing season (SGS), or leaf emergence, relative to the timing of a potentially damaging last hard freeze (minimum temperature ≤ – 2.2 °C). SGS was modeled for the domain by combining EVI data with ground-based temperature 'degree day' calculations reflecting the rate of springtime warming. No significant area-wide, long-term SGS trend was found; however, over much of a contiguous region stretching from Mississippi eastward to the Carolinas, the timing of the last hard freeze was found to occur significantly later, this change occurring along with increased frequency of false springs. Earlier last hard freeze dates and decreased frequency of false springs were found over much of the northwestern part of the study region, including Arkansas and southern Missouri.

Raindrops frozen on the grass, shot by carol, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License

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