Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

MVFN’s Climate Change Awareness Project

“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

TulipsNot 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 If the trend toward global warming continues, there will be a significant impact on our natural environment and the infrastructure of our communities.

Environment Canada - Summaer Temperature Trends 1948-2005Canada 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.

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Alberts Gardens – April 2006 Results

Alberts Gardens

Planting, emergence, bloom dates and bloom length will be listed on the table below as they become available in 2006..

Tulip Bloom Indicator

Alberts Gardens April 2006 Results

Click to enlarge map

Blue MarkerThe communities participating in Albert’s Gardens

Green MarkerWhen 20% of the tulips in the community bed emerge

Red MarkerWhen 20% are in bloom

Emergence = green tips showing through snow or soil
Bloom = fully open blooms

Mean Temperature In Ottawa April (1930-2005)Tulips and other flowers are sensitive to local annual climate variations. Many climate variables affect plant growth and flowering, but perhaps the most critical is the temperature during the 3-4 weeks preceding bloom. It is interesting, therefore, to look at a graph of Ottawa’s mean April temperatures from the 1930’s to 2005 (based on climate data from Environment Canada). There is variation from year to year, but a warming trend, which scientists predict will continue, is evident. Tulip bloom dates will likely be influenced by this trend.

Alberts Gardens table – 2006

Albert’s Garden site


Planting Date

Date when 20% tulips emerged*

Date when 20% tulips bloomed*

Almonte Fall 2005 March 28 April 27
Athens Fall 2005 March 23 April 26
Bancroft Fall 2005 April 5 May 1
Beachburg Fall 2005 April 1 April 24
Carleton Place Fall 2005 March 28 April 23
Collins Bay Fall 2005 March 29 Not recorded *
Kingston Fall 2005 March 28 Not recorded *
Ottawa Fall 2005 March 26 April 28
Perth Fall 2005 March 28 Not recorded *
Picton Fall 2005 March 27   April 23 *
Renfrew Fall 2005 March 29 April 21
300 bulbs were planted in each garden* Picton: indicates at least 20% of  plants which survived damage by deer at this site
* Collins Bay, Kingston, Perth: deer damaged a significant number of the plants at these sitesEmergence = green tips showing through snow or soil
Bloom = fully open blooms
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The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN

Press Release
Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists
Submitted by Pauline Donaldson, MVFN Public Relations Chair
April 10, 2006

The Tulips (and Spring) Are Coming! Climate change awareness at MVFN 

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Ask an astronomer when spring arrives and the answer will likely be that it arrives with astronomical precision between March 20th and March 22nd. Ask a field naturalist or gardener and their answer will likely depend upon where they live and the kind of winter it has been. They may rely on observations of local wildflowers or birds when considering whether spring has indeed arrived. For people in urban areas, especially those in Eastern Ontario near Ottawa, the flowering of tulips is one sure sign of spring, and a very welcome one.

In the Mississippi Mills area, for an update on 300 tulips planted last fall, and to hear how spring is progressing in nearby communities, just ask Helen Halpenny of the Almonte Horticultural Society. Halpenny and representatives from other Eastern Ontario horticultural societies including Carleton Place and Perth are participating in the “Albert’s Gardens” tulip study, part of a climate change awareness initiative of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN). The project is named for Albert, one Lanark County gardener who thought plants in his garden were getting earlier (possibly due to climate change) but had no recorded dates to confirm it. The project began last fall with eleven communities planting the same species of tulip (Red Emperor). Approximately 300 bulbs were provided to each community by the National Capital Commission, which has made Ottawa into North America’s tulip capital with events such as the tulip festival. Now this spring the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are tracking the growth of these plants on their web site ‘tulip indicator map’ at Dates of 20% emergence and 20% bloom are posted for each location and the idea is to compare them with those in the coming years. The map is updated as communities report in.

Albert’s Gardens communities can look to the north and south to see how spring is progressing in other communities and when their own plants might bring a splash of colour. “We try to keep the beds the same says Helen, so that the only major difference between sites is local climate.” Once the bulbs are up the crucial factor determining bloom date is April temperatures. Newly emerged bulb tips in Kingston have been soaking up the sun since March 22nd and all communities have now reported 20% emergence. To date no sites have reported blooms.

“The tulips do double duty” says Michael Macpherson, President of MVFN. “There is the fun side of Albert’s Gardens, documenting the arrival of spring after a long winter. But, there’s also a serious side. The climate is changing in eastern Ontario as it is globally and in the rest of Canada.” April temperatures have been increasing for the last 60 years and experts predict the trend will continue. We could see mean annual temperatures 1.5 C higher than now by 2020, 3.5 C higher by 2050 and 5.0 C higher by 2080. The tulips of Albert’s Gardens are one of the many indicators of local climate change that the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are watching. Bloom dates for local wildflowers will be looked at this spring, and on the August long weekend, lake temperatures will be monitored as MVFN takes part in its Ontario Nature 75th anniversary Open Doors project. “Most people are not really aware that climate is changing in our area and in eastern Ontario”, says Paul Egginton, co-ordinator of the climate change awareness project for MVFN since May 2005. “Nor are they aware that there are already impacts on river flow, ice cover and duration, and on lake temperatures and fish populations amongst others. We need to start considering these changes in our planning processes.”

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists are a non-profit group dedicated to promoting the understanding, appreciation, preservation, and conservation of the natural environment, especially in the watershed of the Mississippi River in the Province of Ontario. To learn more about nature and MVFN visit

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