Climate change

Irene Garonna, Department of Geography, Mercator Award winner 2017

Strawberries ripen in spring, melons in summer, and corn is harvested in the fall: We humans are dependent on the changing seasons. In her PhD thesis at the UZH Department of Geography, Irene Garonna looked into the question of how the seasons are shifting along with climate change.

In the West the discipline of phenology – the study of recurrent seasonal events in nature – was pioneered by naturalists in the 18th century who systematically recorded the migration of birds, the ripening of fruit, and the changing color of leaves. These days phenology also helps in understanding more fully the impact of climate change on the environment. Various studies have shown that for many plant species spring has been coming earlier in recent decades.

In her thesis Irene Garonna looked into how satellite records can be used for plant phenological research. Consulting the longest continuous satellite record of vegetation activity, she was able to show that in many parts of the world the growing season for plants has gotten longer over the past 30 years. In her research she quantified these changes and explored links with climatic factors. Her work demonstrates that observing seasons from space helps document changes in the seasons, and might also enable us to better understand and potentially predict the effects of climate change on our environment.