thoreau, climatologist

[Photo: Image design by C. Davis and C. Willis.
Photographs depicting those groups in decline
courtesy of K. Cerrudo, A. Miller-Rushing,
J. Novak, T. Barnes, and C. Rushworth.]

Unbeknownst to him, Henry David Thoreau was a climatologist. His recordings of plant flowering patterns from 1851 to 1858 are helping modern climate scientists determine plant abundance and decline in New England. They can then, in turn, link those patterns to climate change.

One of the things they’ve discovered is that flowers are blooming seven days earlier now than in Thoreau’s time. And they could only find 7 of the 21 species of orchids Thoreau recorded. An excerpt:

Henry David Thoreau endorsed civil disobedience, opposed slavery and lived for two years in a hut in the woods here, an experience he described in “Walden.” Now he turns out to have another line in his résumé: climate researcher. He did not realize it, of course.

Thoreau died in 1862, when the industrial revolution was just beginning to pump climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In 1851, when he started recording when and where plants flowered in Concord, he was making notes for a book on the seasons.

Now, though, researchers at Boston University and Harvard are using those notes to discern patterns of plant abundance and decline in Concord — and by extension, New England — and to link those patterns to changing climate.

Read the rest.

[New York Times]


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