Backyard phenology: The science right outside our windows
On the lightning-lit night of June 11 at Northern Spark, a sleek silver camper opened its doors to anyone wanting to share and record their insights and theories on the climate-changing world we live in. Northern Spark is a dusk-to-dawn arts festival that addresses global climate change. The theme this year was Climate Chaos | Climate Rising. The camper, dubbed Climate Chaser, was part of an IonE-hosted exhibit called Backyard Phenology: Tracking Nature’s Cycles in a Changing Climate. Phenology is the study of the changing of seasons and the life cycles of plants and animals that coincide with these changes. As an extension of the exhibit, those interested in a year-long phenology event timeline as well as access to the numerous phenology workshops throughout the year were given passports to track their observations.
The masterminds behind this installation are Rebecca Montgomery, forest resources associate professor and IonE fellow; Christine Baeumler, artist and associate professor in the College of Liberal Arts; Kate Flick, educator and graduate student; and Beth Mercer-Taylor, coordinator of IonE’s Sustainability Education program. Here’s an archived stream of the event — the climate chaser appears at minute 23.
One goal of the Backyard Phenology project is to involve the public in scientific research, better known as citizen science. Participants can use indicators such as the emergence of insects, migration of birds and flowering and budding of flowers to track seasonal changes. Tracking the many environmental changes that happen before our eyes, we can better explain the story of the natural world, Mercer-Taylor says.
“A lot of people don’t see themselves as experts, but whether they are out at sporting events or gardening and tending their lawn, they really do have this observational knowledge,” she said. “That realization is very empowering for a lot of people, and it’s a very important step when addressing climate change. By working together through citizen science we can share and tell a more comprehensive story and better explain the happenings in the world right outside our windows.”
Throughout the next year, phenology passport users can record their place-based observations at Nature’s Notebook. They can also upload audio and visuals to portray their observations at iNaturalist. These uploads will be incorporated into a multimedia video collage that will be presented at the 2017 Northern Spark festival to be held June 10–11.
A special thanks goes out to the collaborators that made Backyard Phenology possible: This is Folly, Smart Set, Three Seven, and Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Body Painting. Backyard Phenology sponsors include Make It. MSP, the Imagine Fund Faculty Awards, the Minnesota Phenology Network and IonE.
Banner photo by Jeff Schad