(CNN) — Every spring, people flock to Japan’s cherry blossoms. This stunning pink and white flower has been revered in Japan for over a thousand years.
A new study has shown that the famed sakura plants are blooming earlier than normal because of human-induced climate changes.
Researchers from Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan and the Met Office in the United Kingdom say that the “peak bloom” flowering period has been extended by 11 days due to climate change and urban warming.
Rising temperatures are causing the trend of earlier peak blooms to continue. The scientists observed that average March temperatures in Kyoto city have risen several degrees over pre-industrial time, due to climate change and urban heating.
Urbanization is a major reason. Cities are more warm than rural areas due to the heat island effect, where buildings and roads absorb heat from the sun more than natural landscapes.
The study found that if planet-warming greenhouse gases emissions continue as they are now, Kyoto’s cherry blossoms may start arriving earlier than expected by the end century. This could be by nearly another week.
“Our research has shown that not only has human-induced climate changes and urban warming already had an impact on the cherry blossom flowering date in Kyoto, but that very early flowering times, as in 2021 were now estimated to have been 15 times more probable, and are expected at least once per century,” said Dr. Nikos Christidis (Met Office climate scientist).
“These events are expected to occur every few year by 2100, when they will no longer be considered extreme.”
On April 4, cherry blossoms are in full flower at the Lake Biwa Canal of Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture.
Michihiro Kamura/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP
The earlier cherry blossoms had wider implications for Japan’s economy, ecology, and are a sign that the climate crisis is threatening all ecosystems.
Yasuyuki, a contributing author from Osaka Metropolitan University, stated that “Spring cherry blossom flowering in Japan is a culturally important event.” The local economy is dependent on the spring festivals that accompany the blooms. It is important to be able to predict when the bloom will bloom.
Locals and tourists alike enjoy picnics under the cherry tree. Businesses often offer special meals or products throughout the week.
Why cherry blossoms should be planted early
It’s not just about tourists trying to capture peak bloom before they all fall. It could have a long-lasting impact on entire ecosystems and threaten the survival many species.
According to the study, rising temperatures have trickle-down effects upon farming and land management practices in the country.
It can also affect plants, insects, and animals that rely on each other for their life cycles and development. A disruption to this cycle could cause a chain reaction that can lead to damage to ecosystems.
For example, plants sense the temperature and if it’s warm enough, they begin to flower and then their leaves emerge. Higher heat can lead to faster growth in insects, and other animals.
Different plants and insects may react to heat at different rates, throwing off their life cycles. Unlike once, when they used to time their springs simultaneously, insects and plants may now respond at different times. This could mean that there is not enough food for them.
Many crops and economically valuable plants are already experiencing the same phenomenon, which poses serious problems for food security and farmers’ livelihoods.