Last Wednesday the USDA released a new Plant Hardiness Zone Map. There were several significant changes
in this update from the previous map that was released in 1990. The change that has garnered the most media attention is a general shift in many areas of about five degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the previous map (for this blog post all temperatures will be listed as Fahrenheit). The map divides the geography into 10 degree bands labeled with a number, which is then subdivided into A and B bands of 5 degrees. The current map as well as the previous version is available for download at their website
. Does this shift indicate a climate change? The USDA points out on their website that climate change is based on temperatures readings from a period of 50 to 100 years. This map is based on 30 years of data (1976 – 2005) and would thus not be a reliable indicator of climate change. Additionally, the data displayed on this map is the average of the lowest winter temperatures for a given area or essentially how cold you can expect it to get each winter in a given zone.
Another change with this new map is the finer scale. Through the Geographic Information System technology used by the USDA ARS and Oregon State University’s PRISM Climate Group, an amazing level of detail and accuracy has been obtained. This is due in part to the implementation of a sophisticated algorithm used to interpolate data between reporting stations. Another significant component in the finer scale is the increase in observation stations. While the number of stations is not available, the USDA website does state
“the new map used temperature data from many more stations than did the 1990 map.” In the past seven years I have seen weather stations become more affordable while the quality improves. This has made it possible for more people to measure the environment around them.
As part of our work developing sensors for measuring climate change, sustainable food production, and renewable energy Apogee has had great opportunities to work with research and educational institutions to make weather and climate data available to the general public. Utah State University erected a solar powered environmental observatory in 2011 (http://weather.usu.edu
). We have also worked with the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network (NDAWN)
, Oklahoma Mesonet
, and the AgWeatherNet from Washington State University
as well as others. Recently we were notified of a paper published
in Plant Methods that used our infrared sensors in researching global warming scenarios in rice paddies. The impact we have on our environment will continue to be studied and as we measure our world, Apogee Instruments will continue to design and manufacture sensors to help make better measurements.
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