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Later Longer Leaf Change Season Incoming

Sep 18, 2014 05:16 PM EDT
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Every year dozens upon dozens of people flock to places like the East Coast countryside to gape at the incredibly vibrant and beautiful color change of foliage that happens each autumn. However, experts are now saying that the leaves will be changing color later and later into the season, with the average leaf-turning process taking a little longer.

A study recently published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography details how climate change could postpone the fall leaf turn in many parts of the United States as warm temperatures linger for longer.

According to senior author David Medvigy of the Princeton Environmental Institute, trees need daily temperatures to be low enough and daylight hours to be short enough to produce the vivid vistas of fall; so even while the days may be shortening, that's only half of a two-part equation.

"We're really interested in understanding how these systems will change as we experience global warming or climate change," he said in a statement. "What these results are suggesting is that different locations will change in different ways, and that these differences are actually going to be quite interesting."

The authors add that tracking exactly when and for how long the leaf turning process lasts can directly impact the globe's all-important carbon cycle.

"When plants have green leaves, they're doing photosynthesis and taking carbon out of the atmosphere," Medvigy explained. "The longer you have green leaves, the more carbon dioxide you can take out of the atmosphere. At least, that's how the current thinking goes. So, figuring this out could potentially be important for understanding the impacts of climate change."

According to the study, after observing and analyzing foliage change data on nearly 20 different species of trees across the US, Medvigy and his colleague Su-Jong Jeong found that the timing of leaf change is more sensitive to temperature in warmer areas than in colder regions.

This essentially mean as the global net temperature rises, leaf coloration in southern regions becomes increasingly delayed, while the north remain unchanged. This results in an altogether longer leaf change season across the US.

How exactly this impacts the environment, however, remains to be seen.

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