“A look at climate sensitive aspects of the natural environment, their variability and change through time in the Mississippi Valley area”
Introduction to climate change awareness at MVFN
Not so long ago we spoke of climate change in the context of geological time scales i.e. thousands of years. However, today it is apparent that climate is changing in Canada and around the world, at rates that are detectable within decades. A graph of national long-term temperature averages since 1948 is shown at the bottom of this page.
Although there is much to be learned about climate change, increasing evidence suggests that in the past 50 years or so, increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, due in part to human activity, is a major contributor to climate change http://www.ipcc.ch. If the trend toward global warming continues, there will be a significant impact on our natural environment and the infrastructure of our communities.
Canada is a signatory to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and the Kyoto Accord, and has a national climate change program in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare the country to adapt to future climate changes. The province of Ontario is also involved in emission reduction activities and is also a signatory to the National Adaptation Framework. However, there is little specific information on possible impacts of future climate change in our own local area of the Mississippi Valley and Eastern Ontario. This information is useful if we are to understand consequences of climate change for our area and to begin discussion and planning for adaptation to change.
The natural environment which we enjoy and which fills us with such wonder, faces amazing challenges. By examining features of our natural world which might be climate sensitive and which might be undergoing changes here “in our own back yard”, MVFN hopes to create an interesting learning experience which should help us understand and adapt to the future climate changes.
To get the ball rolling, MVFN started exploration of climate change during the 2005-06 speaker series which focused on the theme “Change in our Natural World” . This series presented important background information on changes in climate, nature, and the environment.We also began collecting data on aspects of the local and natural environment that may be climate sensitive. We hope to continue to involve members as well as the public and groups in the community in observing changes in local phenomena, and in recording and sharing the information.
In the fall of 2005 we began the Alberts Gardens project by planting tulip bulbs across several hardiness zones to compare emergence dates in the spring. Read about Alberts Tulip Gardens. The Alberts Gardens project was conducted in collaboration with several Eastern Ontario horticultural societies and the National Capital Commission who generously supplied bulbs. In the spring of 2006 Alberts Gardens began to bloom and we posted emergence and bloom dates on our tulip indicator map .
MVFN’s Plant Watch – wildflowers
In the spring of 2006 MVFN began recording the first bloom date for area wildflowers at a variety of locations. Results will be tabulated and posted later in the summer or when available. These can be used to compare with results in the coming years, as part of our climate change awareness project.
A group of MVFN members took the first step by selecting the wildflower species to watch. These include plants representing a variety of preferred habitats. Read more about MVFN’s Plant Watch and details for participants.
Lake and River water-temperature survey of the Mississippi Watershed
Held on the August holiday weekend August 5-7, 2006, this project was the first ever volunteer-driven water-temperature survey of the entire watershed. Read about the project and print out guidelines for participants and reporting forms.
Background information on the climate change awareness project
Brought forward to the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists in the summer of 2005, the Climate Change Awareness project began shortly thereafter through the efforts of members of a dedicated Climate Change Awareness Committee, including Paul Egginton as Chair of the newly formed Committee, Cliff Bennett, Michael Macpherson, and Lorri McKay, and subsequently other members have served on the committee.
An overview of national and international perspective on climate change was the first topic of the 2005-06 speaker series “Change in our Natural World”. This was presented on September 22, 2005 by Paul Egginton, who introduced the scientific, environmental, social, economic, issues associated with climate change. New to the Board of Directors of MVFN, Egginton also introduced for the first time his concept for a Climate Change Awareness project at MVFN. Then MVFN president, Mike Macpherson, invited members and others to consider participating by sharing locally collected data and/or observing and reporting information on various features of the natural world which are likely to show change in response to climate change.
A number of features or `indicators’ could be subjects for observation under this project. Examples include dates of first and last frost, ice-on and ice-off water bodies, birds over wintering and arrival dates; emergence and bloom dates of wildflowers. Other data such as water flow regime in rivers and streams, ice thickness on lakes, depth of frost penetration are also possible features which could be studied to give us a better picture as to whether climate change is having an impact here.
The intention is to look at a number of familiar ‘indicators’ from the natural environment, make observations using simple protocols, and report and share the results. Contextual information could be drawn from government data bases; supplemented, we hope, by personal records by MVFN members and others in the community over the years. Thus, current local observations could be placed into a broader chronological, topical, and geographical framework.
MVFN’s goal for this outreach project is to raise awareness of the climate sensitive nature of our natural environment and to help develop a better understanding of whether change is currently taking place. We hope the project will be of interest not only to field naturalists but to other individuals and groups.