Fall color at Upper Hadlock Pond. A Schoodic Institute research fellow is studying whether climate change is having an effect on when the leaves start to change color, when they reach their peak and how that might be affecting the length of the tourist season. PHOTO COURTESY OF WINSTON SHAW

Research examines fall foliage and climate change

ACADIA NAT’L PARK — If you have photos from anytime since 1950 that show fall foliage in Acadia, Stephanie Spera would really like to see them.

A 2019 research fellow at the Schoodic Institute, Spera is studying whether climate change is having an effect on when the leaves start to change color, when they reach their peak and how that might be affecting the length of the tourist season.

She said satellite images of Acadia in the fall are available going back 20 years.

“We can analyze the satellite data and hopefully get at when the leaves start to change color and when they are at peak,” she said.

Spera encourages people to send in fall photos taken since 2000 because those can be compared to the satellite images to provide for a more precise analysis.

But she especially wants to see photos taken before satellite images became available in 2000. And the earlier the photos, the better, she said, “because we can see if there if a trend [in the timing of fall foliage] and, if so, whether it has been going on for a while.”

Spera is an assistant professor of geography at the University of Richmond. The fall foliage study is a two-year project funded by the Schoodic Institute’s Second Century Stewardship program.

A sign on the deck at Jordan Pond House asks visitors to send their fall foliage photos to a researcher who is studying foliage patterns in Acadia. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

In addition to soliciting photos from individuals, Spera and a former student of hers are trying to find creative ways to get information about the beginning and duration of the foliage season in Acadia.

“She has been digging through MDI Historical Society material, old newspapers, digitized records and old national park records, trying to find anywhere that someone said the foliage was at its peak on a certain date,” Spera said.

The foliage study also involves gathering historical data about temperatures and precipitation in Acadia and correlating that with when the leaves turn.

“The more data you have, the easier it is to try to piece it all together and figure out what is controlling what and what is correlated with what,” Spera said.

If it turns out that the fall foliage season is starting and peaking later, it is possible that that is influencing visitation patterns.

“Published literature shows that warmer temperatures mean there are more visitors in almost all the national parks in the shoulder season, but Acadia has seen a huge spike,” Spera said. “Acadia’s visitation has doubled in September and October since the 1990s.

“I’m interested in seeing if the [foliage] peak is getting later and later and what that might mean for the environment, for park management and for the economy of the Mount Desert Island communities.”

Signs encouraging visitors to submit their fall foliage photos to Spera have been placed at a few locations in Acadia where people often taken photos.

So far, she has received only a few that were taken before 2000.

“But we’re not giving up,” she said. “And we are getting great response from people who are currently in the park.”

Photos both old and recent, along with the date they were taken, can be sent to [email protected]

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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