Each year, more than 1.5 million people attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. to glimpse a colorful sign of spring. But while this year’s peak bloom was in line with the 96-year average, over the long term spring is actually springing sooner — due to climate change. This change isn’t limited to the cherry blossoms, either; recently published maps from NASA Earth Observatory have revealed how much earlier the season is starting in national parks around America.
The maps show the “rate of change (days per century since 1901)” for first leaf and first bloom, drawing on data published in 2016 by National Park Service (NPS) ecologists. NASA Earth Observatory looked at 276 parks to discover around three-quarters are experiencing earlier springs — and over half are seeing extreme early springs.
The changes in national parks offer more evidence that climate change is happening now; according to NASA Earth Observatory, “…most parks are already experiencing and responding to climate-driven changes.”
Parks have had to alter the timing of opening park facilities, hiring seasonal staff, and commencing control of invasive plants and pests. The National Cherry Blossom Festival has also been extended, so that it’s more likely for the peak bloom and the festival to overlap. According to the National Cherry Blossom Festival website, the event now takes place over four weekends, as opposed to the two weekends it lasted in 1994 (although the festival website didn’t specifically attribute the length to climate change).
NPS climate change ecologist John Gross said, “Climate changes are affecting resources across the entire range of national parks. Earlier springs, as indicated by leaf and flowering dates, is one of the most obvious and easily understood effects of climate change.”
The magnitude of change differs across the parks; for example, in Grand Canyon National Park, spring is appearing almost two weeks earlier than in 1901, according to NASA Earth Observatory. Conversely, some parts of the southeastern United States haven’t experienced as much change.