What Indicates Spring?

Some Seasonal Insight Beyond the Groundhog's Knowledge

Image Courtesy of NASA NOAA

Quincy Lee
Staff Writer

“Ah! Spring!” The wonderful time when the days are getting longer and there’s an excuse to sit in the sun all day. But how do you know springtime has sprung? There’s more to it than the clocks “springing” forward an hour and a new quarter starting.

On March 20, the tilt of the Earth reached 90 degrees, meaning that we are parallel to the sun. Meaning the planet’s orientation is now equal to that of the sun, this date is known as the spring equinox. This moment is like a sunrise on a grander scale, where the rays are shifting from one side of Earth to the other.

Due to this shift, the heat emitted is absorbed more by the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere. Our winter is officially over and spring has begun as these light rays spread north. I guess the groundhog can see his shadow now.

Now that the sun is further overhead, the arc length of its path across the sky is longer. Even though the Earth is rotating at the same speed, the sun appears to travel further across the sky. The sunsets and sunrise have moved further north in comparison to the viewer.

With the longer days and increased solar radiation, storms become less frequent, allowing students to go to class without wearing a trash bag to stay dry. A continuation of the annual water cycle, rainfall is being absorbed by plants on the ground rather than falling from the sky.

Spring has many definitions with regard to natural phenomena, from the source of water, an alpine spring, to the action of plants sprouting flowers.  Spring fever was given its name because people would get ill from allergies from the spouting flora.  

“The major indicator of the shift in the seasons can be the greenery index,” Tim Niblett, a professor in the geography department, said. The greenery index shows the amount of vegetation in the area. As you may have noticed, the parks around Isla Vista are looking extremely luscious, and perfect for that nature-inspired Instagram picture.

Particularly in Santa Barbara, spring means an increase in the local phenomenon of upwelling. As these westerly winds howl through the channel at this time of year, the surface water gets pushed offshore and is replaced by the nutrient rich water below. This allows the kelp populations to thrive and contribute to the amount of vegetation in the ocean.

The greenery index has been a large part of the farmers’ way to indicate the shift in spring. Local gardens begin to produce their harvests and flowers begin to bloom. Measured as the amount of vegetation in a given area, the greenery index is increasing at this time of the year to show that spring flowers have sprung.

In addition to the plants, animals can be an indicator of the shift in Earth’s axis tilt. The temperature changes cause species to move to a more suitable environment. As the water warms with increased solar heating, whales migrate up the California coast. At this time of the year, they can be seen migrating through the Santa Barbara Channel. A survey site is located at Coal Oil Point to count the number of gray whales passing by.

Also, the local butterfly garden on the reserve has been playing host to the migrating monarchs. This shift in season may affect the location of student’s classrooms in spring quarter, but these animals have an entire shift in location of their homes in the spring season.