UMaine Grad Student Looking Into Climate Change & Future Of Maine Maple Industry 

The sound of folks tapping their maple trees seem to come earlier every year.

“If you talk to the old timers they were March first that was when they started. middle of March. Now more and more people are starting to tap in the middle of February and some people are going earlier,” said UMaine student and PHD candidate Jenny Shrum.

A recently published study from Cornell University predicts that by the year 2100 sap season could start a month sooner than it dies now, meaning people could be out tapping trees in January. Frozen trees are thawing earlier and earlier starting the cycle of freeze-thaw events that creates the pique time to tap trees. It’s the varying weather and high number of freeze-thaw events in areas like Maine and Vermont that make sap plentiful.

“You want to pick the maximum bang for your buck,” Shrum said. “That maximum window that’s gonna allow you to optimize your sap collection. So if you start in December, you may not get a bunch of freeze-thaw events. So you want to choose that 6-8 week period where you’re going to have the most freeze-thaw events.”

Shrum is working to learn more about the relationship between weather and sap flow. The Sugar Shack in Albion is one of her three test sites. She set up a weather station that is taking real time weather readings of the air temperature, wind speed, wind direction and barometric pressure. At the same time graduated containers are being watched by a camera so she can see the changes in sap level every hour and relate that to the weather data.

“So the idea being that ultimately I can come up with an equation that’s gonna say with these particular weather factors you can expect this amount of sap flow. And then with the climate change scenarios I can anticipate okay 40 years, 50 years from now when they’re expecting these kinds of conditions what can we say about sap flow.”

More and more research like this is being done at the University of Maine thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and Maine Epscor.

“Change is gonna happen. Basically this program is designed so that we can be doing research that’s gonna help Maine remain Maine.”