Story at a glance

  • Climate data from 1952 reveals prolonged summers and shorter winters, falls and springs.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause.

Certain environmental phenomena, like flowers and plants blooming early and migratory birds travelling prematurely, is more than nature working ahead of schedule. 

New research posits that the seasons changing ahead of time could be a result of climate change and the warming of average global temperatures, resulting in a prolonged summer. These balance shifts could have dangerous implications for agriculture and natural environments, as well as human health.

Published in the journal of Geophysical Research and Letters, the study looks at climate and seasonal data spanning 1952 to 2011 in the Northern Hemisphere. Collecting temperature data over these years helped scientists track when each of the four seasons began on average. 


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The results indicate that the average duration of summer increased from an average of 78 days to 95, while spring, winter, and fall all saw decreases in length ranging from three to nine days. 

Extrapolating this data, scientists found that if this trend continues at the current rate, summer could last nearly six months by 2100. 

"This is the biological clock for every living thing," the study's lead author, Yuping Guan, a physical oceanographer at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told NBC. "People argue about temperature rise of 2 degrees or 3 degrees, but global warming changing the seasons is something everyone can understand."

Some of the consequences of such seasonal change could harm humans. Guan and his team note that people could be exposed to high volumes of pollen for longer stretches of time and suffer from an increase in mosquito populations gravitating toward warmer northern environments. 

This could introduce certain viruses and diseases, like malaria, into new environments.

Flora and fauna could also have a difficult time adapting to a new climate, harming existing ecosystems and disrupting the demand for energy as warm weather grows hotter and lingers for longer periods of time. 

Scientists conclude by saying that this pattern will continue if emissions are not curbed and the Earth continues to absorb more heat than it reflects back into space. 

“Under the business‐as‐usual scenario, spring and summer will start about a month earlier than 2011 by the end of the century, autumn and winter start about half a month later, which result in nearly half a year of summer and less than 2 months of winter in 2100,” the authors write. “As lengths of the four seasons change continue, which can trigger a chain of reactions, policy‐making for agricultural management, health care, and disaster prevention requires adjustment."


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Published on Mar 27, 2021