Wayne Esaias is a NASA scientist. He has been using satellite data to track plant and pollinator relationships across the United States. Bees are a common type of pollinator, and Esaias is also a beekeeper. He got the idea for his project after discovering that the bees he keeps in Maryland were making honey earlier and earlier in the year.
Wayne Esaias: Nectar flows were coming about a half a day earlier per year.
Esais was curious about whether plants and pollinators in other areas of the U.S. were shifting their behavior in a similar way, in response to warming winters caused by climate change.
Wayne Esaias: Just the numbers of species involved and variability across the country means that this is a very difficult area to study, and that’s where the satellite comes in.
In his job for NASA, Esaias is familiar with using satellite tracking tools to monitor ground vegetation across the globe. Now he plans to integrate satellite data with records kept by beekeepers.
Wayne Esaias: And that gives us the type of generalization that we need in order to perhaps better understand the impact of climate change and land cover change on the status of our pollinators . If they get out of sync – way out of sync – we lose both the plant and the pollinator.
He said that loss has the potential to change agriculture and wildlife as we know them.
Wayne Esaias made his initial discovery by plotting 15 years of ‘hive weight’ data. ‘Hive weight’ measures honey.
Wayne Esaias: Hive weight is a very informative measure of when plants are blooming that produce nectar that the honeybee can gather.
He explained why understanding the relationships between plants and pollinators are so important:
Wayne Esaias: Our terrestrial systems and all flowering plants co-evolved with pollinators, and pollinators are absolutely mandatory in the functioning of those terrestrial ecosystems. So if one is interested in understanding the impact of climate change on our terrestrial ecosystems, I believe it’s really necessary to understand the impact of climate on this plant-pollinator interaction.
To read more about Dr. Esaias, see Buzzing about Climate Change on the Earth Observatory.
Our thanks to Wayne Esaias
Wayne Esaias has been a biological oceanographer with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center since 1984. For over two decades, he has tracked plant growth in the world’s oceans, and in 1994 he became the leader of the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer Instrument (MODIS) Ocean Science Team. More recently, he has helped assess instruments due to fly on the National Polar-Orbiting Environmental Satellite Series, which is the next generation of low-Earth orbiting environmental satellites. He is a Master Beekeeper (Eastern Apiculture Society) and an active member of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.