measuring global warming in massachusetts

Hello readers! It’s always nice when things come together. For example, my last post discussed the idea that creativity results from the convergence of different areas of knowledge. Today, I found a 2006 paper from scientists at Boston University that brought together three things: botany, photography, and history to do an analysis on the effect of global warming in Massachusetts.

Have you ever seen one of those cool photography projects where someone finds a very old picture of a building (lets call this the “before” picture), and then takes their own picture of the same building from the same place (lets call this the “after” picture)? Lets call the whole thing “before & after” photography. In case you haven’t seen this, and if for some reason you have trouble imagining the idea, take a look at this photo:

Photograph from between 1899-1920

Nice, right? Now look at this photo:

Modern photograph by John Walker

If it’s possible to be on-location, and as long as the location hasn’t changed much physically, John Walker of Fourmilab shows us exactly how we can do comparative photography as seen above.

This is the exact technique that Richard Primack and Abraham Miller-Rushing used in their experiment in measuring the effects of global warming in Massachusetts. With the help of the Arnold Arboretum in Concord, MA, the two evaluated nearly 300 dated photographs by comparing them to photographs they took themselves. By comparing the two photographs they were able to determine if the plants were flowering at different times of the year, which would be due to change in temperature.

Sure enough, they found that plants were flowering up to ten days earlier than they were 100 years ago according to the old photos. They believe the increase in temperature in Massachusetts of three degrees over the last century is the reason for this speedy flowering, which can have numerous harmful effects, including an elongation of allergy season and reduced chance of pollination.

Attempting this experiment without combining different fields of work would quite literally be impossible. Without photography, it would have been difficult to measure the time or duration of flowering by observing historical specimens that have been preserved. Without history, the photographs may never have even been saved or taken in the first place.

Following this theme, let’s realize how important it is to appreciate and indulge in the world of knowledge available to us. Read a section of the newspaper you never read, you never know when diverse knowledge will come in handy!!

Alex Mojcher


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