When's the ideal time for cherry blossom photos in Vancouver?
"The overall consensus is that the cherry trees will likely bloom between late March and early April. For Vancouver, the average predicted peak bloom date is April 2," says UBC climate scientist Dr. Elizabeth Wolkovich. But where did that consensus come from?
Wolkovich and other UBC researchers are trying to narrow the date down, but it's difficult due to variable factors like weather, temperature and daylight.
To help figure it out they're outsourcing the answer to the citizen scientists.
They put together the first international cherry tree prediction competition, and wrangled more than 80 participants on four continents into more than 40 teams in the quest for the $5,000 prize. They're trying to predict peak bloom dates in four cities on three continents.
"While it is known that cherry trees bloom earlier each year as climates warm, complex weather patterns make annual prediction extremely difficult," states the competition website.
How trees respond to those climate changes is something Wolkovich is interested in.
"In my lab at UBC, we wanted to improve our model for predicting how trees respond to climate change, particularly by observing when they leaf out or flower," she says in a press release. "We decided to study cherry trees because we know a lot about their history—the record of peak bloom of cherry trees in Kyoto, Japan is the longest human record we have of recurring biological events."
A colleague of hers, Dr. Jonathan Auerbach, says using citizen scientists can help.
"The combination of non-expert predictions can be incredibly accurate. For example, when contestants guess the number of jellybeans in the jar at the fair, the average is often alarmingly close. We wondered whether citizen scientists can similarly participate in cherry blossom prediction," he says in the release.
As this is the first year of the competition, whether the predictions are accurate is yet to be seen everywhere. But so far two teams were very close on the first of the cities, which is Washington D.C.