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Climate Change Research: By Century's End, Expect Much Earlier Maple Season

New research predicts that the sugaring season could shift much earlier due to the effects of climate change.
New research predicts that the sugaring season could shift much earlier due to the effects of climate change.

A new study published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management looks at how climate change will affect the timing and yield of the sugaring season in the eastern part of North America.

Temperature is key to the maple syrup industry. The season runs for a relatively short part of the year when the sap is running in sugar maples — that happens when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. That means that as the climate changes, the timing of the season could change significantly.

David Lutz, an environmental scientist and ecologist at Dartmouth College, is coauthor of the new study titled "Finding the sweet spot: Shifting optimal climate for maple syrup production in North America." Lutz said that his research predicts a much earlier maple sugaring season by the end of the century.

"The average is about a month earlier here in Vermont," he told VPR's Morning Edition. "We normally think about the beginning of the season happening during Town Meeting Day, which is in early March, and we can think of that as happening by 2100 closer to Valentine's Day and the beginning of February."

While none of the sites tracked in the study were actually in Vermont, Lutz said the data they obtained allowed researchers to make predictions for the state.

"What we were able to do was collect data from all these sites and construct mathematical relationships between how much sap was flowing, the sugar content of that sap and climatic variables," he said. "And what we were able to do was, through those relationships, understand or think about how future flow may be impacted by projected climate change. So that was how we were able to take data from our sites that we were looking at, and think about how that may influence what will happen in Vermont."

Lutz said that he already sees maple producers adapting their techniques in ways that could help them deal with an earlier season and the possibility of reduced yield.

"A large majority of them really utilize vacuum systems," Lutz said, "which will kind of create an artificial pressure gradient within the tree so that so long as temperatures reach below freezing, they can kind of simulate a scenario in where flow really is powerful."

Copyright 2019 Vermont Public Radio