Early signs of spring may not be good

Warm temperatures, colorful wildflowers. What's not to like, about early signs of spring? Climate scientists at NASA say these early signs could be tied to global warming, and the consequences are troubling.

9NEWS talked to NASA scientist Dr. Compton Tucker at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

He said that on average, the last frost of the year is happening about five days earlier than it did just five decades ago. Tucker said his conclusions are drawn from a fleet of Earth-observing satellites that have been monitoring our planet for more than 40 years. That satellite data combined with ground-based meteorological measurements show that the planet is warming; and as it warms signs of spring are coming earlier.

Tucker said that while the timing of the last frost may not seem like a lot, even small shifts in the climate impact when plants bloom, animals migrate and snowpack melts. He noted these changes have serious implications for a wide range of plants and wildlife including migratory birds and insects that rely on cues from the Earth about when to bloom and when to migrate.

Tucker believes an early spring may even increase the potential for wildfires because the ground dries earlier, and that coupled with warmer temperatures can create optimal conditions for fires. Fewer frost-free days also allow destructive insects like the pine bark beetle to feed farther north than they ever have. He explained that plants that used to only grow at certain latitudes are now growing farther north too, which can alter the ecosystem in those areas.

Tucket pointed out that while it is very difficult to attribute any one weather event to global warming, climate change may bring early springs more often in the future.

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