Chasing Spring I Oxford Open Learning


    Chasing Spring

    A Geographical Journey Across Britain’s Blossoming Landscape

    The astronomical onset of spring in the UK is marked by the vernal equinox on the 20th of March 2024. However, it may surprise you that there are two additional definitions for the season, stemming from meteorology and phenology (def. The study of cyclical, seasonal phenomena).

    When Does Spring Really Begin?

    In the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologists typically categorise seasons into three-month intervals determined by average monthly temperatures, with summer being the warmest and winter the coolest. According to this system, spring encompasses the months of March, April, and May, making the 1st of March the meteorological first day of spring.

    In practice, establishing precise criteria for the beginning of each season is challenging. For instance, the arrival of spring might be marked by a phonological event like the date of the first daffodil flowers blossoming or the commencement of birds building their nests. However, the specific dates of these phonological events exhibit considerable variation across Britain.

    High, Low, Countryside And City

    The geographical journey of spring is linked to temperature gradients across Britain. Southern regions experience milder winters, leading to an earlier onset. The gradual increase in temperature triggers key biological processes, such as bud break and flowering, in plant species, marking the first signs of the season. According to studies, spring progresses across the UK at a speed of about 2 mph! So, if you were to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, you could likely follow the season—the longest Spring walk ever.

    If we are being meticulous, it seems that Spring progresses from southwest to northeast in line with rising temperatures, fuelled no doubt by the warmer southwesterly winds dominating at this time of year.

    Altitudinal differences also contribute to the staggered emergence of spring across Britain. The timing of flowering also depends on elevation. Lowland areas generally experience an earlier spring due to milder temperatures. In contrast, higher elevations, such as the Scottish Highlands, maintain winter conditions for a more extended period.

    Urban areas introduce microclimates that further affect the timing of spring. Heat-retaining materials, such as concrete and asphalt, create localised warming, leading to an earlier beginning in major cities, compared to surrounding rural landscapes. This urban heat island effect accelerates the blooming of plants and trees in metropolitan areas.

    To sum it all up, the geographical journey of spring in Britain is a staggered but overwhelmingly consistent progression from southwest to northeast.


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