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Expanding Growing Season in the Eastern U.S. Forests

June 6, 2014; 6:11 PM ET

Thanks to recent climate change, the forests in the eastern United States have experienced earlier springs and later autumns over the last two decades, according to new research that was led by Harvard University and published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

These changes have resulted in a longer growing season, which has enabled the forests to store an additional 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The research team used satellite imagery, ground observations and instrument tower data to help reach this conclusion.

The eastern forest region was defined in the study as extending from Maine to Georgia then as far west as Wisconsin.

Key excerpts from the EurekAlert article via Harvard University.....

"If forests weren't storing additional carbon in this manner, we would be even worse off in terms of atmospheric CO2 levels, so at the moment, it's a good thing...but this is not going to solve the CO2 problem," said Andrew Richardson, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary Biology. "Yes, 26 million metric tons is a lot of carbon, but it's still small when compared to fossil fuel emissions.

"And climate change isn't just about warmer temperatures," he continued. "It's also about changes in precipitation patterns...so in the future, an earlier spring might not help forests take up more carbon, if they end up running out of water in mid-summer."

When combined with data collected from instrument towers, the various data sets allowed research associate Trevor Keenan, Richardson and colleagues to paint a richly detailed picture that shows spring starting earlier, and the growing season lasting longer than at any point in the last two decades.

"Basically, we showed that there are three different ways of looking at this, and they all show the same result - spring is getting earlier," Richardson said. "When you look at the patterns across both space and time, and year-to-year at individual sites, and when you look across different species, the same patterns hold up...that gives us confidence that there's something going on."

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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