In Japan it’s known as momijigari. In the northeast of the US it’s called “leaf peeping season.”
But the reds, yellows, russets and golden browns that help us exhale the stresses of the city when we see them could, in future, be a thing of the past — and we have climate change to thank for that.
The changes that occur in order to transform leaves into the colors of autumn are the result of chlorophyll (a pigment they require for photosynthesis) diminishing as summer passes. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color, but when summer’s over, they dispense with the need to produce food, and that lack of chlorophyll reveals two other pigments: carotene and xanthophyll which give them their orange and yellow colors.
But scientists are acutely aware how climate change will affect fall color. Appalachian State University’s Department of Biology says that among other factors, higher temperatures, a change in the amount of rainfall, humidity and cloud cover and the migration of trees farther north to escape the heat, could all contribute to a change not just in the timing of fall colors — but to the colors themselves.
“Although less brilliant fall foliage displays may not rank high on the list of concerns about global change, those muted colors could be the canary in the mine shaft telling us that these shifts could be markers for more subtle, and potentially more consequential changes in our world,” its website reads. “A tree stressed is a symptom that something larger is wrong with our world.”
Extreme weather brought on by climate change can also result in less vivid colors—or of trees losing their leaves quicker than usual. Yingying Xie, a post-doctoral candidate at the University of Buffalo told Yale’s Climate Connections that “People may have shorter time period to enjoy the view and they may observe less brilliant color.”
There could be a financial impact as well. According to The National Environmental Education Foundation, fall foliage tourism brings $8 billion in revenue to New England each year alone.