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The changing seasons

Penny Tomkins, 30 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

I’d like to thank those of you who sent in your weather data last week. And especially those of you who sent in jokes, keep them coming!

Some of the comments this week noted that the weather is getting warmer and that the days are getting longer. For this reason I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about the seasons!

There are four seasons in the year. Winter, spring, summer and autumn. We are still in winter, which is the coldest season.

Spring starts around 20th March (the Spring Equinox) and is when we see most flowers bloom, the weather gets warmer, and many animals have their young. Lambs in the fields are a good sign that spring has arrived!

The summer comes in full force from June to September, and is when we have the warmest weather and the longest daylight hours. Luckily for you it’s also when you get your longest school holidays!

Autumn takes hold from late September, and this is when the days become shorter and the weather begins to get colder! This is when the leaves turn colour to oranges, reds and browns and fall from the trees. And when animals like squirrels hoard food for the long winter ahead. Winter arrives again in December, and stays until mid-March.

Do you know why we get seasons? What causes the weather to change so dramatically throughout the year? Well, it’s because the Earth is turning around the Sun at an angle. The picture below shows the earth in relation to the sun. The earth turns (rotates) on its axis (imagine a line joining the North and South poles) as it moves around (orbits) the Sun.

It takes the Earth 365 days to travel once around the sun. The length of a planets year is the time it takes for it to complete one orbit of its star. So a year on Earth is measured as the passing of 365 days. 

The Seasons (from the BBC Bitesize website)

The picture above shows the Earth’s rotation around the Sun. The axis is shown by the red line at the North and South poles. You can see that the axis (red line) is at a different angle to the Earth’s orbit (the dotted line). This means that each day we are at a slightly different angle to the Sun than we were the day before. This is what causes a difference in the number of daylight hours we get. Fewer daylight hours (winter) means less light and heat, making this time of the year colder. More daylight hours (summer) means more light and heat, which makes it warmer!

The UK is in what is known as the ‘North hemisphere’, this means we are closer to the North Pole than the South Pole. Notice that in the picture the North pole (the red line pointing up) is leaning towards the Sun in the June and away from the sun in the December. This angle is what causes the change in daylight hours as the Earth orbits the sun over the course of the year.

Other countries experience the changes in daylight hours at different times of the year. In Australia it is summer in December! And in Iceland they have sunlight for days in a row in the summer and darkness for as long in the winter! Imagine the sun being out at midnight!

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant

Earth on it's axis (from BBC Bitesize website)

The Big Garden Birdwatch

Penny Tomkins, 23 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

There is an exciting scientific survey being conducted this weekend, and your help is needed! It’s called the Big Garden Birdwatch and is organised by the RSPB, a conservation charity that help to look after our wildlife. You can help by registering online here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ and downloading an information pack. You then spend one hour this weekend documenting the birds that visit your garden or a green space near your home. The information pack on the RSPB website has a guide to help you identify the birds! Then, upload your findings to the RSPB website so that they can feed into the nationwide survey of bird populations, aimed at providing an insight into how our feathery friends are doing in the wild!

The Big Garden Birdwatch has been running since 1979! You can find out about previous results here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/previous-results/ . An annual, nationwide survey is a fantastic way to spot changes in bird populations. This is important, because if we know that numbers of a certain bird are dwindling, we can start to look at why this is happening and make changes that will help those birds to survive. An example of this is the Starling. The Big Garden Birdwatch has shown an 80% decrease in the Starling population since 1979. The RSPB has been raising awareness of what we can do to help these birds, such as keeping the grass in parts of our gardens short so that Starlings can more easily reach the grubs and insects they feed on near the roots of the grass.

Starling in the winter (picture courtesy of the RSPB website).

Here are some ideas on how to attract birds to your garden: http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/387868-top-10-bird-feeding-tips-this-winter . And some fun, bird-related activities: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/family-fun/ .

St Fagans National History Museum and National Museum Cardiff will be hosting Big Garden Birdwatch activities this weekend! If you want to be involved here are links to the What’s On guides for more details:

Cardiff         St Fagans

 

I’d like to send a big thank you to those of you who sent your weather data in last week. I’m looking forward to this weeks data and finding out whether it has been warmer or colder and how many of you have had snow or hail!! Remember, if you send all your data in and let me know online when your plants have flowered, then you will receive Super Scientist awards and be in for a chance to win a Nature Trip!

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies!

Professor Plant

Starlings (picture from RSPB website)

Your questions, my answers

Penny Tomkins, 19 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

I'm happy to report the first signs of spring at National Museum Cardiff! Daffodils have started growing at the Museum!

Daffodils growing at National Museum Cardiff


I’d like to share a joke from St. Paul's Primary School. This did make me laugh! If anyone has any other science, nature or (particularly) plant related jokes then please send them in!

Q.        Why was the computer cold?
A.        Because it left its windows open!

Coppull Parish Primary School: Friday's rain measurement may be misleading as it was not water but hailstones! Professor P: Hi Coppull Parish Primary, I always like to watch hail but hate to get caught in it! The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School also reported that their rain gauge filled with hail stones! The readings shouldn’t be miss-leading if you do the same as we do to measure snow. If it hails again, take the rain gauge inside and wait for the hail to melt, then record the water level as rainfall. 

Thorn Primary School: Hi Professor Plant, We have had snow this week! It snowed on Tuesday night and a little bit on Wednesday morning then for most of the day on Friday. Is there anything we need to do to care for our bulbs during snowy weather? Most of our bulbs now have shoots. Prof P: Hi Thorn Primary School, I hope you enjoyed the snow and it wasn’t too cold! Your plants are quite sturdy and will be Okay outside in this weather. The soil provides a warm layer for the bulb and protects it from the cold. You might notice that daffodils planted in the ground are growing quicker than those in your plant pots. That is because the soil is thicker around bulbs planted in the ground and so is providing more warmth. This shows how important warmth is to growing plants and why changes in the climate have an effect on when plants grow and flower!

St. Ignatius Primary School: Dear, Professor Plant. We brought our plants in over the Christmas holidays and when we came back we noticed some of the shoots had come up. We are so excited about this but hope it's not too soon for them to be growing. Also we have had some really windy and wet weather so some of or plants had fallen over. We think they are ok and we will keep an eye on them. Thanks P4 St. Ignatius. Prof P: Hi P4 at St. Ignatius Primary! I’m sorry to hear the wind blew over your plants, but am very glad that they are all Okay! It’s great that your plants have started growing and don’t worry, it’s not too early! Other schools have reported their first shoots too, including St. Brigid's School, Bickerstaffe CE Primary School, Stanford in the Vale Primary School and Freuchie Primary School. Silverdale St. John's CE School have informed me that their shoots are now 3cm high! I'm happy to report that my plants have started to grow too!

The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: Over the holidays it had rained so much that the rain gauge had filled up and tipped to one side so some of the water had tipped out. We are really enjoying collecting the weather data and watching the shoots growing from the bulbs. Thank you for sending them to us. K and J. Prof P: Hi K & J, Thank you for letting me know that your rain gauge had tipped over and for monitoring the weather so well! You must have had a lot of rain! I’m glad you are taking good care of the bulbs and watching the shoots closely. Other schools have had similar problems with their rain gauges on coming back from the holidays. Rivington Foundation Primary School and Llanishen Fach C.P School reported that their rain gauges were overflowing on their first day back! 

Ysgol Nant Y Coed: There should be rainfall on Wed and Thurs but the rain gauge had been tipped over. We're very sorry. We've now put a second, back up rain gauge out so it shouldn't happen again. C and E. Prof P: Hi Ysgol Nant Y Coed, don’t worry about your rain gauge falling over but thank you for letting me know! And well done for thinking of a solution and putting out a second rain gauge! St Laurence CE Primary School have been having the same problem, maybe they could try using a back-up rain gauge too! Or, they could secure their rain gauge (maybe by tying it to a fence or post) or move it to an area where it might be more sheltered from the wind but will still be able to collect rainfall! 

Darran Park Primary: Sorry for not doing it for a couple of weeks but we couldn’t find this page. I really enjoyed the Christmas card and we will use the coupon to improve our school garden which we also use as a learning area. Prof P: Hello Darran Park Primary! The gift vouchers were from our sponsors at the Edina Trust, and I’m glad to hear you are putting them to good use. As for being late recording your readings, that’s fine, you can still upload readings for previous weeks! 

Darran Park Primary: Professor Plant we have checked our crocuses and our daffodils and some are starting to get bigger and healthier. I enjoyed the Christmas card you gave me. I had to photocopy it so my friend Brandon and I could have one each, we are going to use the £10 voucher on our school garden. We really enjoy checking the temperature and the plants and we really enjoy talking to you and please could you send a letter telling us more information about your museum and more information on plants and more about history. Prof P:  Hello Darran Park Primary, what a lovely comment, thank you very much! I would like to see a photo of your school garden when the flowers start to bloom! I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying the project and are looking after your plants so well. I will of course send a letter with some more information about National Museum Wales. You can also explore the seven Museum sites online: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/. The closest to you are St Fagans National History Museum, which run regular out door nature activities and National Museum Cardiff, which has wonderful galleries exploring Natural History. There is an exciting exhibition on at the moment which I think you would like: http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/whatson/?id=7233

Keir Hardie Memorial Primary School: We did not get the chance to check the weather records for the rainfall because the weather was rainy and snowy all week so our interval and lunchtimes were indoor. We were able to record the temperature because Miss Nicholls did the reading at the playground door. From Primary 4/5. Prof P: Not to worry Keir Hardie Memorial Primary, thank you for letting me know why there are no rainfall records and well done for recording the temperature! Other schools have reported colder weather, strong winds and storms! These include Arkholme CE Primary School, St. Brigid's School, Ysgol Rhys Prichard, St. Paul's Primary School, Maes-y-Coed Primary and Morningside Primary School. Stanford Gardening Club at Stanford in the Vale Primary have also noticed changing patterns through the week, reporting ‘very cold weather, snow Tuesday, rain Thursday and high winds during the week. Then today Friday the sun is out!’

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies!

Professor Plant

Thank you bulb buddies from Professor Plant and baby bulb!

Snow fall and snow depth

Penny Tomkins, 16 January 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies, 

Thank you for sending in last weeks readings. The weather has definitely been getting colder – and some of you have even reported snow! For this reason I want to talk to you about how Meteorologists (weather scientists) measure snow. 

It is a lot trickier to measure the amount of snow that falls than it is to measure the amount of rain. This is because snow misbehaves! Snow is often blown by the wind into drifts, which causes some areas of deep snow and less snow in the areas around it. Because the snow fall is uneven the measurements from these places will be wrong! This is why we have to measure snow on flat surfaces, in the open and away from areas where drifts happen! Snow also likes to play games with Meteorologists who want to measure it, it melts into water and re-freezes into ice! This means that the snow measured on the ground isn’t always the same as the amount of snow that has fallen. Another problem is that new snow settles on old snow, so it is difficult to tell how much snow has fallen in one day from the snow that fell the day before! 

Meteorologists have to take all these tricks the snow plays, and work around them to discover how much snow has fallen. They look at snow fall (the amount of snow that falls in one day) and snow depth (how deep the total snow level is, old snow and new snow). One way that Meteorologists measure snow fall is to use a piece of ply wood. They place the wood in an open location away from areas where snow drifts occur, and measure the snow on the board at 6hr intervals, clearing the snow from the board each time they measure it. This means they are only measuring the snow from that day, which will tell them how much snow has fallen on that day in that area! 

Snow fall can also be measured in its melted state, as water. This means that you can use your rain gauge to measure the water equivalent of snow fall! If you only get a bit of snow then it should melt in your rain gauge anyway. But if you get a lot of snow, take your rain gauge inside to the warm and wait for the snow to melt into water. Then measure the water in the same way as you have done each week and report this as rain fall in your weather logs. 

If you have snow and enough time for an extra experiment – why not have a go at measuring snow depth? To do this all you need is a ruler (also known as a snow stick!). Place the snow stick into the snow until it touches the surface underneath, and read the depth of the snow.You need to take these measurements from flat surfaces (benches work well) in open areas and away from snow drifts! You need to take at least three separate measurements to work out the average snow depth in your area. You work out the average measurement by adding the different readings together and dividing them by the number of measurements. So, if I measured the snow depth of three surfaces at 7cm, 9cm and 6cm, I would add these together (7+9+6 =22) and divide that by three, because there are three readings (22÷3=7.33). So 7.33 would be my average reading for snow depth on that date. 

Weather stations such as the MET Office have come up with new ways of measuring snow depth, using new technologies. The picture below shows one of the MET Offices snow stations. These use laser sensors to measure how deep the snow is on the flat surface placed below it. This means that Meteorologists can collect readings from all over the country at the push of a button – which is far more reliable and a lot easier than sending people out into the cold with snow sticks! The map below shows how many snow stations the MET office has and where these are, is there one close to you? 

This is what the METOffice’s Snow Depth sensors look like!

(MET Office website)

Map showing the MET Office’s Snow Depth sensors – is there one near you?

(Image courtesy of MET Office website)

If you have snow and measure the snow fall with your rain gauge or the snow depth with a snow stick, then please tell me in the ‘comments’ section when you are logging your weekly records! I would be very interested to know what the snow depth is compared to the snow fall collected in your rain gauge! 

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies, 

Professor Plant

Baby Bulb is growing!!

Penny Tomkins, 9 January 2015

Welcome back Bulb Buddies,

I hope you enjoyed your holidays! How are your daffodils and crocuses? Before we broke-up for Christmas a number of schools had written to tell me that their daffodils and mystery bulbs had begun to show above the soil! How are yours getting along? You can update me on how much your plants have grown by adding to the ‘comment’ section when you send in your data. C from Ysgol Y Plas has been very good at this, informing me that “13 bulbs have started to show in pots and 3 in the garden”.  It’s always exciting when you see the first shoots begin to show!

Last year the first daffodil flowered on the 10th of February, although the average date for flowering was 12th March. So keep an eye on them – it won’t be long now! Remember to measure the height of your flowers on the day they bloom. We will then look at all the dates and heights recorded to find an average date and height and this will help us to spot any changing patterns when we compare our findings to those of previous and future years! 

(Picture courtesy of Doug Green’s Garden)

Stages of a Daffodil bulb growing

(Picture courtesy of Doug Green’s Garden)

Remember, flowers need sunlight, warmth and water to grow. Last year was the third warmest year since the project began in 2006, with an average temperature of 6.0°. 2013-2014 also saw the highest rainfall at 187mm, but was the second lowest year in terms of sunlight hours with an average of 69 hours. This meant that our plants bloomed earlier than they did in 2012-2013, which had been much colder with slightly less rain and less sunlight hours. What has the weather been like where you live? Do you think our flowers will bloom earlier or later than they did last year? 

I look forward to seeing your data this week! 

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies, 

Professor Plant

Your comments, my answers:
 
Morningside Primary School: It was very cold and very very wet this week at Morningside! There was also a little bit of snow on the ground, that would have perhaps melted in our rain gauge!  Prof P: Snow, how exciting! You are right about the snow melting in the rain gauge. This is because the ground will have been colder than the plastic of the rain gauge, especially if there was already rain water in the gauge when the snow fell. Your rain gauge can be used to measure snow fall the same as rain fall, and I will talk more about this in my next blog!

Newport Primary School: On Tuesday 2nd Dec we moved the thermometer because we believed there wasn't enough variation in temperature being shown on the thermometer where it was positioned. It was in a slightly sheltered spot. When we moved it the recorded temperatures dropped considerably backing up our impressions. Prof P: Well done for spotting this Newport Primary! It’s surprising how much difference location can make to the readings. Ideally, your thermometer should be placed in an open, shaded area, to the North of the school and some distance from the building. This is because direct sunlight, shelter from the wind and heat reflected from surfaces or emitted from buildings can cause higher, inaccurate readings.

Glyncollen Primary School: Thank you for the new thermometer. We think one of our bulbs is starting to grow because the weather has been quite mild. We are going to be watching it carefully. Has this happened in any other school? Prof P: Hi Glyncollen Primary School, I’m glad the new thermometer arrived safely! Well done on noting how the weather has effected your plants. I have looked through your weather records and can see that the temperature only really dipped in your area in weeks 49 and 50. The rainfall early on after planting and the mild temperatures will definitely have helped your Baby Bulbs to grow! Some other schools have also reported seeing their first shoots, these include The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School and Silverdale St. John's CE School.

Bickerstaffe CE Primary School: We have noticed that some daffodils planted some years ago have grown new leaves to a height of about 150mm. They are in a quite sheltered spot close to the school buildings, if we remember we will take a photo and send it. The children wonder if these bulbs may be a different type or have come from a different country. Prof P: Hi Bickerstaffe CE Primary School! It’s nice to hear that plants have started growing! These Daffodils are probably a different variety to the ones we are growing. There are many different types, and some have been known to flower as early as November! If you send me a photo once the daffodils have bloomed I will see if I can identify it for you!

Glencoats Primary School: Glencoats primary are enjoying looking after their bulbs. It will make our Eco garden nice and colourful. Thank you for choosing us to be part of this project. Prof P: Thank you for taking part in the project Glencoats Primary School. I would very much like to see a photo of the Eco garden once all the flowers have bloomed!