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This nature photograph was taken near Fort Qu’appelle in Saskatchewan. The fall of 2019 was an odd one. Fall colour was progressing as usual; the valley was first to go and, once that happens, the aspen and birch are next to go. After spending a short week photographing the foliage in the valley, I waited for the aspen and birch to turn. Just as that process began and the leaves began to change from dark green to yellow, a cold snap hit. Over 2 or 3 days the temperatures plummeted from positive 15 Celcius to negative 15 Celcius.
In the fall, trees begin to prepare for winter by ceasing to absorb light and CO2 and start storing all the glucose they can internally. They do this by drawing glucose slowly from their leaves. When temperatures are consistently above freezing, the trees will hold on to their leaves longer, to photosynthesize and create more energy to store to survive the winter. As fall progress, a tree begins to gradually absorb glucose from its leaves, causing the leaves to slowly change their colour, giving us the beautiful landscape we all enjoy in the fall. However, when the temperature changes drastically and a deep freeze hits suddenly, the tree will draw glucose rapidly, skipping the normal process that happens slowly, and drop their leaves, making them go straight from green to brown.
While this equates to shorter and less glorious fall seasons (as we saw across a lot of North America this year), the bigger problem is that as trees are caught off guard for winter, they begin to die. If the transition between fall and winter is too fast then the tree won’t have enough glucose stored up. Without having enough glucose, the water inside their trunks turn to ice, which destroys their cells, and, after a few years, kills the tree.
So while I was thankful to grab a few photos the day before the deep freeze, I fear that, if these wild temperature swings continue, photos will be all we have of glorious fall foliage.
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