Climate Change Made Kyoto’s Cherry Blossoms Bloom The Earliest They Have In 1,200 Years
Japan’s cherry blossoms bloomed last week, marking the earliest bloom date in more than 1,200 years.
The leaves of cherry blossom trees release a hormone most of the year that prevents buds from blooming. As the weather warms, trees stop releasing the hormone, allowing for flowers to bloom. This typically happens around mid-April.
Earlier blooming has been a general trend in the country for a number of years, as shown by Japanese records that have documented bloom dates since 812 AD.
In 2015, scientists at the John Innes Centre published research explaining why flowers bloom earlier in a warming climate. According to their findings, warmer temperatures allow for seeds to develop better and have a higher chance of germinating.
‘As the climate changes the sweet spot for seeds comes earlier in the year, so first flowers bloom correspondingly earlier too,’ the study said.
‘It seems that plants aim to flower not at a particular time of year, but when the optimal temperature for seed set is approaching. If the climate warms plants are clever enough to recognise this and adjust their flowering time accordingly and it feels like spring comes earlier in the year,’ Dr Steven Penfield, one of the researchers of the study, said.
Benjamin Cook, a research scientist at Columbia University, told The Washington Post the Kyoto Cherry Blossom record is ‘incredibly valuable for climate change research because of its length and the strong sensitivity of flowering to springtime temperatures’.
‘Since the 1800s, warming has led to a steady trend toward earlier flowering that continues to the present day. Some of this warming is due to climate change, but some is also likely from an enhanced heat island effect due to increased urbanisation of the environment over the last couple of centuries,’ he said.
A climate change scientist in the US who has studied cherry blossom trees in Washington told EOS News the historical trend of the earlier blooming of cherry trees is consistent with human-caused climate change; however, no research has been done in this area that definitively examines all the factors.
According to The Post, the earlier bloom in Kyoto is in direct correlation with an average temperature rise by about 3.4°C.
‘Evidence, like the timing of cherry blossoms, is one of the historical ‘proxy’ measurements that scientists look at to reconstruct past climate,’ Michael Mann, a professor of climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University said.
‘In this case, that ‘proxy’ is telling us something that quantitative, rigorous long-term climate reconstructions have already told us – that the human-caused warming of the planet we’re witnessing today is unprecedented going back millennia,’ Mann added.
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