Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spring snow phenology on Mount Desert Island, Maine

posted by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

"Books of natural history make the most cheerful winter reading. I read in Audubon with a thrill of delight, when the snow covers the ground, of the magnolia, and the Florida keys, and their warm sea breezes; of the fence-rail, and the cotton-tree, and the migrations of the rice-bird; of the breaking up of winter in Labrador, and the melting of the snow on the forks of the Missouri; and owe an accession of health to these reminiscences of luxuriant nature." 

— Henry David Thoreau, "Natural History of Massachusetts"

Greetings from Maine!

My field site is still melting out from a winter of record-breaking snows. When I arrived on Mount Desert Island in early April the lakes and ponds were frozen and snow drifts covered the mountains — including the three transplant gardens on Cadillac Mountain. I hiked up the summit road, which was closed to car traffic and buried in about two feet of snow pack on April 11. The snow was deep, but solid, so snowshoes were unnecessary, though I wished I had packed skis for the trip down! The last bit of snow on summit garden finally melted this week, allowing me to monitor the spring phenology for ninety dormant blueberries, cinquefoils, and sheep's laurels.

The mid elevation garden on April 11 (top) and April 17 (bottom) this year
While the snow & cool temperatures have made for a chilly beginning to the season, I don't mind. Our research looks at the response of plants to year-to-year variations in spring temperatures. It may seem counterintuitive to find interesting climate change data in a cold year, but this extreme year will provide a great contrast to the other field seasons in Acadia. In the meantime, I'll warm up with some hot chocolate and keep tromping through the last snowdrifts that are holding on in the shady hollows on the mountains, looking for the first flowers and leaves on Acadia's plants.

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