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Press release issued by the Natural Environment Research Council on behalf of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

25th August 2006

Early Spring in Europe matches recent climate warming

Conclusive proof that Spring is arriving earlier across Europe than it did 30 years ago is published today in the journal Global Change Biology.

Scientists from 17 countries have collaborated in the world's largest phenology study (the recording of changes in natural annual events such as the flowering of plants) and now have real evidence that climate change is affecting the seasons.

Led by Dr Annette Menzel from the Technical University Munich in Germany & Dr Tim Sparks of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the UK, the research team has discovered that Spring arrives an average of 6-8 days earlier that it did in the past. And in countries where rapid increases in temperature have occurred, that figure is almost doubled.

The scientists examined more than 125,000 datasets to find out what changes were occurring across Europe, and when. Their research also reveals a definite contrast with Spring arriving later in countries such as Slovakia, that have had recent decreases in temperature. The pattern was most evident as an advance in Spring but the warmer temperatures have also tended to delay Autumn, by an average of about 3 days over the last 30 years.

Dr Menzel said "Unlike some studies that record individual species, this is the first comprehensive examination of all available data at the continental scale, using around 550 plant species, and the timing change is clear, very clear".

Dr Sparks commented "Not only do we clearly demonstrate change in the timing of seasons, but that change is much stronger in countries that have experienced more warming." He added "Many plant species grow throughout Europe, so, for example, a direct comparison of the flowering date of wild cherry which is two weeks earlier in the UK with that in Austria which is only 3 days earlier is possible with this huge dataset."

Editors notes

  1. The paper can be found at www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2006.01193.x
    The full reference of the paper is:
    Menzel, A., Sparks, T.H., Estrella, N., Koch, E., Aasa, A., Ahas, R., Alm-Kübler, K., Bissolli, P., Braslavská, O., Briede, A., Chmielewski, F.M., Crepinsek, Z., Curnel, Y., Dahl, A., Defila, C., Donnelly, A., Filella I., Jatczak, K., Måge, F., Mestre, A., Nordli, O., Peñuelas, J., Pirinen, P., Remisová, V., Scheifinger, H., Striz, M., Susnik, A., Wielgolaski., F-E, van Vliet, A., Zach, S. & Zust, A. (2006). European phenological response to climate change matches the warming pattern. Global Change Biology. 12,
  2. The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is the UK's leading research organisation for land and freshwater science. Its scientists carry out research to improve our understanding of both the environment and the processes that underlie the Earth's support systems. It is one of the Natural Environment Research Council's research centres. www.ceh.ac.uk
  3. The Technical University Munich (TUM) features a strong, characteristic profile in the fields of science and engineering. Alongside the traditional key areas addressed by technical universities, powerful links have also been established with the life sciences, especially at the Weihenstephan Science Center for Life & Food Science, where this climate change impact study has been organized. www.wzw.tu-muenchen.de
  4. The study was funded by the COST action 725 "Establishing a European phonological data platform for climatological applications."

For more information contact:

Dr Tim Sparks, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Monks Wood, Huntingdon, UK; tel; +44 (0) 1487 772461

Dr Annette Menzel, Department of Ecology, Technical University Munich, Germany; tel. +49 (0) 8161 714743

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology Press office: Barnaby Smith, tel: 07920 295384 (preferred) or 01491 692439 (2 days a week) e-mail: cehpress@ceh.ac.uk

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