If you’ve ever taken a photo of the stunning fall colors in Acadia National Park, it could help scientists in a new research project about how climate change is affecting the park.
Stephanie Spera, assistant professor of geography at the University of Richmond, is conducting the study over the next two years as a Second Century Stewardship fellow. Using satellite data and photographs, she will map how the onset and duration of fall foliage has changed in the park, and the relationship that has to precipitation and temperature.
“Basically we’re trying to understand how the timing and [fall] colors are changing over time in Acadia, and see if that correlates with changes in climate,” Spera said.
In addition, Spera is studying how fall foliage influences park visitation. Over the past 20 years, September and October have had the greatest increases in visitors to Acadia. To better understand why, Spera will be surveying park visitors throughout the fall to learn their motivations for visiting. Are they coming for the colorful leaves? The comfortably cool weather? Or are there other reasons to visit Acadia in the autumn?
“I think it’s important, as someone who goes to the park, to understand what’s going on around me,” Spera said, “but it’s also important for park management.”
It’s already known that Acadia has become warmer and wetter in the past few decades. Spring arrives earlier, and fall appears to be trending later.
“If more people are coming later in the fall, it has implications for park management and the local economy,” Spera said. “[This project] is about understanding what changes in climate can mean for the trees and the views we’ve come to love in Acadia.”
A 2015 study by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that changes in temperature and precipitation significantly affected the onset, duration and vibrancy of fall foliage. Still, the study states that “autumn phenology remains surprisingly little studied.”
In Acadia, Spera is doing her part to change that.
Though Spera plans to make use of satellite images and climate data from weather stations in Acadia and throughout the Northeast, she anticipates needing photographs to validate that data and reach further back in time.
“Like all technology, the farther back in time you go, the lower the quality of the data,” Spera said. “Historic photos of fall color will help us fill in the gaps.”
Specifically, Spera is looking for people to submit unfiltered photos of the park, along with the exact date they were taken. And while she will take photos from any year, she’s especially looking for photos that were taken prior to 2000.
“In my dream world, we’d go back to the ’60s,” she said. “So far, we have a few photos from the ’80s that people have sent.”
Last weekend, Spera installed photo stations at several locations throughout Acadia where volunteers can take photos for the study. These stations are marked with signs that describe the project and how visitors can contribute.
Photos can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and via stephaniespera.com/anpfallfoliage.html, and on Instagram @anpfallfoliage.