A nationwide initiative launched Feb. 15 will enable volunteers to track climate change by observing the timing of flowers and foliage.   

Project BudBurst, operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and a team of partners, allows students, gardeners and other citizen scientists in every state to enter their observations into an online database that will give researchers a detailed picture of our warming climate.   

The project will operate year-round so early- and late-blooming species in different parts of the country can be monitored throughout their life cycles. Project BudBurst builds on a pilot program conducted last spring, when several thousand participants recorded the timing of the leafing and flowering of hundreds of plant species in 26 states.   

The Chicago Botanic Garden and University of Montana are collaborators on Project BudBurst, which was funded with a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The project is also supported by the National Science Foundation and Windows to the Universe, a UCAR-based website that will host the project online as part of its citizen science efforts.   

“Climate change may be affecting our backyards and communities in ways that we don’t even notice,” says project coordinator Sandra Henderson of UCAR’s Office of Education and Outreach. “Project BudBurst is designed to help both adults and children understand the changing relationship among climate, seasons and plants, while giving the participants the tools to communicate their observations to others. Based on the success of last year’s pilot program, this project is capturing the public’s imagination in a way we never expected.”   

Many species are being affected by climate change throughout the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that 20%–30% of all plant and animal species studied by researchers will likely be at increased risk of extinction should global temperatures rise by 2.7°F to 4.5°F this century.   

Photo by Carlye Calvin, © University Corporation for Atmospheric Research