Indiana’s Dunes National Lakeshore is helping scientists study the effects of climate change on maple syrup production. The park is the only site in the Midwest to take part in the study.
University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Joshua Rapp says Indiana is an important location for the study. It’s near the western edge of maple trees’ natural range– which runs from Canada to Virginia, and the Atlantic to the Midwest.
“The staff there was really enthusiastic about being a site in our network,” Rapp says. “They’ve been collecting maple syrup and have an education program around that and they’ve been doing that for a couple of decades.”
The study looks at the ways a changing climate will affect the chemistry and sugar content of maple sap.
Maple trees are tapped for their sap between winter and spring, when trees regularly freeze and thaw. That freeze-thaw cycle moves the sap up and down the tree, allowing people to collect it for syrup.
Rapp says these past two years are a perfect example of how the timing of tapping season is changing.
“2015 was a good, old-fashioned winter that we would’ve seen 50 or 100 years ago.”
Rapp started tapping March 9 last year. But this year was much warmer.
“We ended up tapping on February 1, so more than a month early.”
He says that could become the norm in the next 50 years, and early data from the study suggest that a warmer climate could cause trees to produce more phenolics, resulting in syrup with a stronger flavor.