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Pulse of the Planet

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Pussy_willow_branch.jpgThe frogs started peeping last week. That meant not only that the pussy willows were about to pop - which they did, the next day - but also, according to my farmer brother, that it was time to pull the taps from the maple trees and focus on birthing lambs instead.

All around us, nature beats in rhythm with the seasons as plants and animals interact with each other and with their surroundings in a finely synchronized dance of life, choreographed by the pulse of the planet.

But what happens when that pulse becomes an irregular heartbeat? When it speeds up in one place and slows in another? How do the many dancers react? And what are the implications of getting out of step?

Those are questions Rebecca Montgomery hopes to begin exploring over the next year with the help of an Institute on the Environment mini grant. Assistant professor of forest resources in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Montgomery will look at the potential for using a combination of 1) high-resolution remote sensing and 2) even higher-resolution Minnesota residents to explore the sensitivity of seasonal changes to shifts in climate.

The goal: to be able to predict where asynchronies might occur with climate change, and so head off adverse impacts before they cause problems for people and other living things.

Specifically, Montgomery will be using the IonE mini grant to fund two sets of workshops. The first will involve the application of satellite technology to observing shifts in phenology - the cycling of biological events with the seasons. The other will focus on building the Minnesota Phenology Network, a virtual community of nature observers around the state that stands to become a tremendously valuable resource for climate change research.

"My vision for the phenology network is to create a distributed network of observers that both are monitoring [now], but also are there as a resource for future research that we perhaps haven't even dreamed of," Montgomery says.

You can follow the progress of Montgomery's work (or join in, if you'd like) here. But don't forget to follow the progress of the planet as well. In my neighborhood, the yellow-rumped warblers should be back any day. And then it will be time to plant spinach.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.