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Did plants get that climate change memo?


Monday, July 22, 2013, by Guillermo Terrazas
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I open my sleepy eyes; it is 5 am and my hand cannot make it to the alarm clock before the voices in my head start telling me that it is too early to wake up. I take a deep breath, put my feet on the cold floor and get ready. I stare out the window trying not to fall asleep as I wait for my ride. I see lights coming down the road and head downstairs pretending I am a ninja, trying not to wake the other residents.

Fast forward 3 hours. I am sitting in front of my computer thinking about how great my morning workout went. And how juicy and delicious were those blueberries and pineapple chunks that I had for breakfast? I check my email for instructions from my mentor; he tells me to download satellite data and manipulate it in order to understand the effect of the Urban Heat Island on deciduous Phenology using my coding skills.

I look down for a moment and then smile, realizing how nerdy and silly it is to get so excited about doing something like that. I love what I do! Have you ever wondered how plants know that it is time to lose their leaves in the winter? Or how they know when it is time to wake up in the spring? The study of these biological cycles is called phenology. As of now we know that phenology is driven by temperature. What we do not know however, is how the expected rise in global temperature will affect the phenology of vegetation.

[The Pheno club.]If you weren't aware, cities are much warmer than their surrounding rural areas; this is called the Urban Heat Island effect. What I am doing is taking these areas and using them as a proxy to understand how the phenology of rural areas will behave in the future. I use satellite information that works by remote sensing in order to quantify these concepts.

Conducting this research is very important because we have found that warmer temperature increases the growing season of vegetation, and that has implications across a variety of different disciplines. Longer growing seasons mean more water usage and a change in the atmosphere's carbon budget, among other things.

After I send my findings to my mentor in the afternoon, I go to dinner and have dinner prepared by our cook; his name is Tim and honestly, he makes some of the very best food that I have ever had. I bet some people have already posted about that but I don't care, it can't be said enough.

Life outside of work has been such an incredible experience for me. There are 28 people here including the proctors, and I have learned a lot from every single one of them. I work with three other guys; we call ourselves the Pheno Club. These dudes will be my friends for life, and I love working with them!

[Break time!]Each of them has something special that I appreciate. Dmitri the amazing brain, David the peaceful and calm figure, and Arturo the warm and super friendly person. I am truly blessed to have been part of their group.

Everyone here is so smart in their own way, it has been a true honor to have been part of their lives and share this experience with them. My roommate James is a character, he makes my day with his witty comments.

I will definitely keep in touch with most people here. At the end of the day what I take from this program is the amazing experience and to appreciate how much it made me grow as a person.

Guillermo Terrazas

Quirky Q&A with "Memo"

If you had a snail that could magically grant wishes, what would you name it? 

The NOTORIOUS B.I.G

Who or what inspires you and why? 

My father inspires me for so many different reasons on so many different levels, I have the utmost respect and love for that man.

What's your first memory? 

I solved maxwell's equations using the icing on the cake for my first birthday. 

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