Spooky Season

It’s that time of year when creepy pumpkins adorn porch steps, kids jump into piles of crispy leaves, and witches brew hard cider. It is what some like to call the “spooky season”. In the Northern Hemisphere, spooky season (i.e., meteorological fall) lasts from the first day of September to the last day of November. But what if the chilly season accompanied by beautiful red, brown, and orangish hues, signified by dancing skeletons and cotton spiderwebs with movies and costumes and tattoos dedicated to its sheer existence, went away? Scientists have tried to address this very question for many years, speculating on what might cause the spooky season to shorten or fade away in the future, and the chaos that would ensue if it ever did. Here, I will share their findings about a spook-less future.

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Mountains located in the desert of the southwestern United States & Mexico called the Madrean sky islands could become more photosynthetically active in the fall. Montane forests such as these are important to study because of their ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, especially in the western United States. The Madrean sky islands are a great place to study the impact of high levels of precipitation, due to the summer monsoon, on plants and soils. Warm and dry conditions of the Madrean sky islands, and the way their ecosystems respond to the monsoon, may hold clues about the future of mountain ecosystems throughout the rest of the world in the face of climate change.

Out of the nine years that were studied by scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture and University of Arizona, ecosystem production and respiration were highest in a warm year with lots of rain that followed a drought year in the sky islands. It was suspected for the drought to have changed the way water moved below the ground, bacterial growth, and the availability of food necessary for microbes and plants. The forest absorbed more carbon in the fall and spring than in the summer and winter. Fall was less rainy than the other seasons in the mountains.

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What this information means for future mountain ecosystems is complicated. Sky islands might be better prepared for droughts and higher temperatures, based on how they already respond to certain environmental stressors. Forests could become more active in the fall in a warmer climate, but warming or drying could also limit growth after the snow melts, before monsoon season. But these answers bring more questions. Are mountain trees going to become larger and leafier as forest productivity increases in a warmer climate? Does a more photosynthetically active fall mean that fall will be more like summer, with green leafy trees instead of spooky bare branches and crisp leaf piles? Will animals start flocking to their new destination in the sky islands in pairs of two, like animals did to Noah’s Ark? Should humans start to migrate there, too?

Perhaps we can predict where people will want to go next based on their current travel choices. A study in the journal Climate, Tourism and Recreation attempted to using a holiday climate index to evaluate the suitability of different beach destinations for tourism within China. The holiday climate index took into consideration the impact of thermal, physical, and aesthetic climatic variables, as well as the overriding effect of certain weather variables. For instance, a person might travel to the beach on a warm day, but uncomfortably high winds would cause them to “override” that decision. Not surprisingly, people have less beach destination options in the fall when the weather is cool. When it becomes summer, every location receives high scores in terms of holiday climate index, and finding “the right spot” probably becomes based on other factors. In the future, will people be willing to travel further for the perfect climate? Or will the pandemic have soured the experience of packed flights, trains, and cruise ships forever?

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Along these same lines, a study in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism investigated the activities tourists like to do while on vacation and how those might change in the future in a different climate. A longer summer season due to climate change would be ideal for those who love hiking, biking, swimming, water sports, air sports and golf. At the same time, a changing climate could change the way people experience climbing and alpine touring, fishing, golf, and water and air sports. The article delved into everything from the vacation-ruining potential of pollen to peoples’ propensity for Nordic walking (i.e., speed walking). The authors suggested early warning systems for vacation destinations where there may be increases in catastrophic events, such as flooding, rockfall, thunder storms, or extreme heat. Vacationers could also benefit from climate-adapted ecosystems, equipment, and infrastructure. Altering the landscape with irrigation, man-made water bodies, and reconstructed nature trails, could compensate for dried out golf courses, deteriorated lakes, and destroyed trails and other hiking infrastructure. Adaptation to the natural conditions of a changing climate could involve redesigning golf courses to improve fish habitats, for instance. Adapting vacation equipment to a new environment could mean crafting smaller boats for shallower or seasonal waters. At the same time, some of these adaptations are costly and could negatively impact the holiday experience.

TAKEAWAYS:

How have you been enjoying this spooky season? Have you been sipping hot cider, or reading more blogs? Share in the comments below!

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