Seasonality of biological and physical systems as indicators of climatic variation and change

Jake F. Weltzin, Julio L. Betancourt, Benjamin I. Cook, Theresa M. Crimmins, Carolyn A.F. Enquist, Michael D. Gerst, John E. Gross, Geoffrey M. Henebry, Rebecca A. Hufft, Melissa A. Kenney, John S. Kimball, Bradley C. Reed, Steven W. Running

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Evidence-based responses to climate change by society require operational and sustained information including biophysical indicator systems that provide up-to-date measures of trends and patterns against historical baselines. Two key components linking anthropogenic climate change to impacts on socio-ecological systems are the periodic inter- and intra-annual variations in physical climate systems (seasonality) and in plant and animal life cycles (phenology). We describe a set of national indicators that reflect sub-seasonal to seasonal drivers and responses of terrestrial physical and biological systems to climate change and variability at the national scale. Proposed indicators and metrics include seasonality of surface climate conditions (e.g., frost and freeze dates and durations), seasonality of freeze/thaw in freshwater systems (e.g., timing of stream runoff and durations of lake/river ice), seasonality in ecosystem disturbances (e.g., wildfire season timing and duration), seasonality in vegetated land surfaces (e.g., green-up and brown-down of landscapes), and seasonality of organismal life-history stages (e.g., timings of bird migration). Recommended indicators have strong linkages to variable and changing climates, include abiotic and biotic responses and feedback mechanisms, and are sufficiently simple to facilitate communication to broad audiences and stakeholders interested in understanding and adapting to climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1755-1771
Number of pages17
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Assessment
  • Climate variability and change
  • Decision support
  • Metrics
  • Seasonality


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