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Study: Blueberry Barrens Warming Faster Than The Rest Of Maine

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images

Maine's wild blueberry barrens are warming faster than the rest of the state.

That's according to a new study, recently published by scientists at the University of Maine.

It found that across 26 wild blueberry fields in Washington and Hancock counties, the maximum recorded air temperature over the last 40 years had risen by about 1.2 degrees Celsius, while elsewhere in the state, the temperature had risen by less than a degree during the same period.

The researchers also found that, the closer the field was to the coast, the more severe the warming effect.

It's not clear what effect higher ambient temperatures might have on the blueberries, which are also affected by numerous other factors, such as pollination, disease and cold, but researcher Rafa Tasnim says, at the same time, drought has become an aggravating factor.

"That's the issue. That we are not having enough rainfall during the summertime, and historical data is also showing that the rainfall pattern is not increasing," she says. "The south part of U.S., they're already suffering so much because of the lack of water, right? So my point is, if you are irrigating your fields more often without even thinking that, 'What's going to happen next, when you will not have any more water?' So that's our key concern right now."

Previous research found that soil and plants begin to show signs of water loss when the temperature goes above about 73 degrees, and plant photosynthesis decreases when temperatures exceed 77 degrees.

Irrigation, Tasnim says, is not a good solution as water becomes more scarce. Her team is looking at other ways to mitigate negative climate effects, such as employing compost, mulch and a charcoal known as biochar. She also says that whatever the solution, it has to be affordable and doable for growers.

Further research is planned for this summer.