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Citizen Scientists Track Flowers for Climate Change - Project Budburst

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Garden flowers crocus sprouts If you haven't heard of "citizen science" you have a delightful hobby opportunity awaiting you! Citizen scientists are volunteers who help provide the geographically huge data needed from observation. Citizen scientists have made significant contributions to bird migration studies, river conditions, and weather patterns. Now, flower enthusiasts can get in on the fun and science!

What a great project for parents and their children! I love this idea to kick off springtime with a purposeful reason to get out into the great outdoors, learn and contribute to our knowledge of Mother Earth!

Volunteers across the Nation to Track Climate Clues in Spring Flowers

Starting this week, citizen-scientist volunteers will be able to help track climate change by observing and recording the timing of flowers and foliage.

Project BudBurst, allows U.S. students, gardeners, and other citizens to enter their observations into an online database that, over time, will give researchers a more detailed picture of global climate change.

The project launched on Feb. 15, 2008 will operate year-round so that 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 carried out in the spring of 2007, when a thousand participants recorded the timing of the leafing and flowering of hundreds of plant species in 26 states.

“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.”

Volunteers Who Participate in Citizen Science

Formal education programs

  • K-12 students- start by focusing on one grade level
  • Undergraduate students- develop modules to incorporate phenology in ecology, forestry, geography, climatology, statistics.
  • Graduate students – develop graduate course(s) and self directed studies

Informal Education for general public

  • Courses for adult learners and non-traditional students.
  • Interpretive programs of national parks, nature centers, museum, botanical gardens.

Sponsors of Project BudBurst

Project BudBurst, is operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and a team of partners including the U.S. Geological Survey’s USA National Phenology Network.

The Chicago Botanic Garden, University of Montana, and the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) are collaborators on Project BudBurst, which was funded in part 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 Web site that will host the project online as part of its citizen science efforts.

Project Budburst is one of the citizen-science partnerships of the newly created USA-NPN (USA-NPN at, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and includes partners such as the National Science Foundation, the University of Arizona, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other agencies. The goal of the USA-NPN is to engage governmental agencies, environmental networks and field stations, educational institutions, and mass participation by citizen scientists in collecting phenological information on plants and animals.

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, said Dr. Jake Weltzin, executive director of the USA-NPN. Examples of phenological events include the timing of leafing and flowering, agricultural crop stages, insect emergence, and animal migration.

“By observing these cycles through time, researchers can better understand and predict global climate change, and monitor drought conditions, wildfire risk, invasive species, and the spread of infectious diseases,” said Weltzin. “In the long-term -- and with enough data -- such information can help us better understand, mitigate and adapt to ongoing and future climate change.”

The USA-NPN will begin enlisting the help of working professional scientists and training citizen volunteers for more intensive plant-phenology monitoring later this spring. In addition, Weltzin said USA-NPN is closely collaborating with other already-existing networks – such as Project Budburst – to maximize the data collected.

How Project Budburst Works

As described on the Project BudBurst webpage, each participant selects one or more plants to observe. Participants begin checking their plants at least a week before the average date of budburst -- the point when the buds have opened and leaves are visible. After budburst, participants continue to observe the tree or flower for later events, such as the first leaf, first flower and, eventually, seed dispersal. When participants submit their records online, they can view maps of these phenological events across the United States.

Along with the partners noted above, Project BudBurst collaborators include the Plant Conservation Alliance and the universities of Arizona; California, Santa Barbara; Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and Wisconsin-Madison.

USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information visit

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| citizen science | greenscaping | habitat | natural resources | science |


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