Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Television video used for climate change research

Posted by Richard B. Primack

“I find that actual events, notwithstanding the singular prominence which we all allow them, 
are far less real than the creations of [our] imagination.” 
Thoreau in his correspondence, 1850.

Photo from the 2009 Tour of Flanders showing trees leafed out along the race route (Photo from

In a recent article, Belgian researchers examined television video archives from 1981 to 2016 of the Tour of Flanders, a bicycle race held each year in the beginning of April, to determine how climate change affects the leafing out and flowering phenology of 46 individual trees along the race route. Trees are leafing out and flowering earlier now than in the past, and earlier phenology is linked to warmer temperatures in the three months (January, February, and March) before the race. Spring phenology is not affected by temperatures in October through December, the amount of precipitation in months before the race, or tree characteristics. 

Still images from the Tour of Flanders showing bicyclists with trees in the background and areas with video coverage. (Figure 1c from DeFrenne et al. 2018)

This article demonstrates the scientific value of video archives for innovative scientific research.  Digital images are increasingly available from smart phones, sporting events, traffic cameras, and security cameras.  When properly analyzed, these images can provide novel insights into the effects of climate change on the phenology of plants in the spring and perhaps also in the less studied summer and autumn seasons

Trees are flowering earlier over time in response to a warming climate, as indicated by later phenology stages.  (Figure 2b from DeFrenne et al. 2018). 

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