USA NPN National Phenology Network

Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

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The USA-NPN, phenology, and our partners are often in the news. Follow some recent stories below.

Image credit:
Sara N. Schaffer


  • Timing is Everything when it comes to managing invasive species
    Monday, September 19, 2022

    2022 Summer Seasonal Story on buffelgrass green up to seed set timing

  • 30 Million Phenology Records collected by Nature's Notebook observers
    Tuesday, August 9, 2022

    This week, we reached a significant new milestone - thirty million phenology records submitted to the National Phenology Database! The 30 millionth record was collected via Nature’s Notebook, the USA-NPN’s plant and animal phenology data collection platform, by Nika Gonzaga, a freshman in Desert View High School's Honors Biology Program in Tucson, Arizona. Nika observed young leaves on a desert willow tree. Nika said "as a freshman, this is my first time ever gathering research like this. It was enjoyable and a very simple task. I hope to do more research on other plants." 

    High school student observes a desert willow tree, Credit: Cynthia Uber

    Nika's teacher, Cynthia Uber, said "My students enjoy taking a break from the classroom and going outside to the Phenology Trail we have on our High School Campus. They love using the Nature's Notebook app as it makes reporting their observations easier and quicker. We are using the data to see how climate change is affecting the species we have on our campus."

    According to USA-NPN Director Theresa Crimmins, “reaching 30 million records speaks to the depth of USA-NPN’s engagement as well as the incredible commitment among tens of thousands of professional and volunteer observers and partners across the country.” Nature’s Notebook observers track local changes in plants and animals, motivated by their desire to contribute to a national effort, learn the intricacies of species they observe, and collect valuable data that are used by scientists and decision makers. Jan Schwartz is an observer with Pima County Master Naturalists who is tracking invasive buffelgrass. “I love the diverse flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert, and we need to learn how to control invasive buffelgrass so that it doesn’t wipe out this diversity. My hope is that the data I collect at Tucson's Mission Garden will inform managers exactly when to remove buffelgrass.”

    Over 500 groups have contributed phenology observations to Nature’s Notebook, including National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, Audubon chapters, Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites, and botanical gardens and arboretums, nature centers, universities, and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). These data have been crucial to understanding changes in the timing of seasonal events in plants and animals in response to changing climate conditions and other pressures. Jody Einerson, a Local Phenology Leader with the Oregon Season Tracker program said, “Oregon Season Tracker volunteers gather plant phenology and precipitation data at their home, rural property, or local schoolyard. The data are used by Oregon and national researchers to better understand weather, climate, and native plant interactions.”

    A family observes a plant in the forest, Photo: Brian F. Powell

    The data in the National Phenology Database are used in diverse applications including natural resource management, threatened and endangered species management, forestry and agriculture, human health, and tourism. A recent paper in BioScience authored by USA-NPN staff and colleagues demonstrates the breadth of research and decisions that are made possible by these data. According to partner Scott Richardson with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “the NPN provides us with cutting edge information to inform the work we do to conserve and recover species. By partnering with NPN, we have access to greater quantities of information covering a broader geographic scope that would be possible on our own.”

    “This milestone gives us a chance to reflect on the current strengths of the dataset and also what changes we might consider going forward,” Theresa said. “For example, how can the USA-NPN best support pressing science and climate change questions and societal needs? We are excited about emerging opportunities for the phenology data the USA-NPN curates, such as predicting the timing and severity of allergy season and providing guidance on plant selection for those working on pollinator restoration. There is so much potential for phenology to make a difference in these and other areas.”

    30 Million Records Milestone infographic

  • It's the new (climate) normal!
    Sunday, March 20, 2022

    Climate normals are 30-year averages of weather data that provide a baseline to compare current weather. NOAA recently updated this average to the most recent 3 decades - what does this mean for our maps of spring?

    Normals are long-term average climate products - they exist so we can compare today's weather to the long term average - for example, to find out if this January is colder than "normal." Since temperatures have been rising decade by decade, the period of comparison matters in showing the difference between current conditions and “normal.”

    Each time we enter a new decade, NOAA updates the suite of standard temperature products to the most recent 3-decade period. They recently moved from the 1981-2010 climate normal period to the 1991-2020 period. Even though ⅔ of the years are the same for the new period, the period of 2010-20 can make a large difference. Climate Central took NOAA's products a step further, showing how seasonal average temperatures have shifted from the prior to the current climate normal period.

    We just updated our spring leaf out and bloom maps to use the new 1991-2020 normal period. In most of the country, spring is coming earlier in the most recent 3 decades compared to prior normal period.

    Comparison of spring leaf out with old vs new climate normals

    How does this relate to climate change? Climate change is best detected through long term (50+ year) trends in temperatures - as done here for the National Climate Assessment. However, looking at the difference between the start of spring in the two normal periods, we see what we'd expect with climate change: Spring is coming earlier in much of the country.

    Keep following our Status of Spring page to see how spring leaf out and bloom unfold across the country. 

  • 2022 Heat Accumulation vs. Rodent Prognostication
    Wednesday, February 2, 2022

    Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter! However, our maps of heat accumulation provide a more scientific look at how much heat has accumulated so far this year, and what's next. Heat accumulation is ahead of schedule in the Southeast and parts of the West and Great Plains, behind schedule in other parts of the West and southern Midwest states. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts warmer than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation in the Southwest and Southeast, below average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Northwest, and above average temperatures and above average precipitation in the Midwest and Northeast. 

    Groundhog Day 2022 Seasonal Story

    And Nature's Notebook observers are already seeing early spring activity including breaking leaf buds, initial growth, and open flowers on several species across the country. Explore which species are showing activity in the dashboard below.

  • In Memory of Marjorie Helen Schwartz (1928-2021), faithful phenology observer
    Thursday, January 13, 2022

    The USA National Phenology Network laments the passing of Marjorie Helen Schwartz, a long-time lilac observer and mother of USA-NPN co-founder Mark D. Schwartz. Marjorie died peacefully on December 21, 2021 at the age of 93. She lived all her life in the Thumb of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, an area shaped like that digit on a mitten which juts into Lake Huron. After she married Mark’s father, Donald J. Schwartz, in 1954, they lived in Gagetown, a small village in Tuscola County, where sugar refining, ethanol processing, and growing grains and beans dominate the local economy. The pride of Gagetown is the Thumb Octagon Barn and Agricultural Museum which celebrates rural America’s heritage and showcases local life in the early 1900s. Marjorie and Donald were proud and long-time supporters of the Thumb Octagon Barn and Museum. Marjorie retired in the early 1990’s as the secretary of Gagetown Elementary School. In retirement, she enjoyed researching her family’s history, tending her flower and vegetable gardens, and contributing local weather and phenological observations.

    Marjorie Schwartz, with her son Mark

    Mark was Marjorie’s only child and she was devoted to him and enjoyed and shared his interests. As a master’s student at Michigan State in the early 1980s, Mark worked for Fred Nurnberger, Ph.D., the State Climatologist. Starting in 1980, Nurnberger provided volunteer observers across the Thumb region with standard cotton-region weather shelters, featuring standard NWS liquid-in-glass thermometers as well as standard NWS metal rain gauges.  One of these weather stations was at Mark’s family home at 6421 Lincoln St., Gagetown, MI, where his mother faithfully took daily weather observations regularly until about 5 years ago, when her health began to decline.

    For his Ph.D. work at the University of Kansas, completed in 1985, Mark used historic lilac and honeysuckle phenological observations from pre-existing networks to model and track the advance of phenological spring across Eastern and Central North America. When Mark moved to Wisconsin in 1992, he began purchasing cloned lilacs and honeysuckles and outfitted local weather stations as phenological observation sites, including Marjorie’s home in Gagetown.  Marjorie was a faithful cloned lilac and honeysuckle observer every year since 1993; in a recent phone call, Mark mentioned that he had Marjorie’s 2021 lilac and honeysuckle observations, but still needed to enter them in the NPN database from her hardcopy. Mark also said that his mom “was an ideal environmental observer.  She was obsessively careful with details, always asked questions if anything in the procedures seemed unclear and made sure to carefully document all the information completely.  Mom provided excellent high-quality weather and phenological observations for all these years.”

    Toby Ault at Cornell University, one of Mark’s close colleagues commented, “That’s a very sweet and beautiful story about her being a lilac observer––a testament to how proud she must have been of her son.”

    - Written by Julio Betancourt, USGS Scientist Emeritus and Co-founder of the USA-NPN