We invite you to join us in understanding how changing climate affects plants across continents. Who are we? We’re a group of scientists and educators at Harvard University and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON for short) who are interested in how plants work and their interactions with weather and climate. I’m Margaret and I’m an ecologist at Harvard. I’ve previously helped create and run Snapshot Serengeti, another Zooniverse project, and I’m excited about this new one.
With Season Spotter, we’re trying to understand the timing of plant responses to seasonal weather. The timing of events in the life of plants is called phenology, but you more likely know them as things like first budding, leaf color change, and flowering. (By the way, people often confuse “phenology” with “phRenology”, which is the study of bumps on the head – totally different!)
The phenology of plants is very sensitive to weather. If you live someplace that has a cold winter, you might notice that when spring weather comes earlier, the trees put on their leaves earlier, too. If you live in a place that doesn’t have a cold winter, you might notice that many plants flower shortly after big rains. These plant responses may seem obvious, but they’re a great scientific tool to measure how plants are responding to long-term climate, as well as short-term weather.
In Season Spotter, we are showing you images taken from a large camera network, focused on North America (but with cameras all over the world). These cameras take pictures of vegetated landscapes every day, which allows us to track the plants’ phenology. We can do some automated processing of these images to extract information about how green the plants are. But there is more information in the images that we need human eyes and brains to retrieve.
That’s where you come in. You can recognize flowers in pictures when computers can’t, and you can tell us when the brightest, best fall colors appear in a Northeast forest. Easy for you. Hard for computers. Vital for science.
We’ll be writing on this blog regularly, introducing ourselves and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at how we get our pictures and what we are doing with the data that you produce on Season Spotter. You can also meet us on Talk and ask questions or just let us know what you think about the project. We are also on Twitter and Facebook. So spread the word, and help us keep an eye on the seasons!