Researchers have traditionally relied on historical weather data and glacial core samples to demonstrate climate change, and on longitudinal studies to understand its impact. The British Ecological Society just released a study that took a radically different approach: they used archived television footage. The research team team, lead by Pieter De Frenne utilized footage from the annual Tour of Flanders cycling race to investigate the impact of climate change. Choosing an annual sporting event makes a lot of sense, and the team utilized 35 years of archived footage filmed between 1981 and 2016. Choosing a cycling race makes even more sense, since it follows a predetermined route and covers a large geographic area.
Unsurprisingly, the study demonstrated that climate change had impacted the local flora, specifically with respect to the timing of flowering and leaf-out. But the results of the study aren’t necessarily the most interesting thing here (most people already accept the realities of climate change) – the way the study was conducted is arguably the highlight. This isn’t lost on the authors of the study, who write: “this technical advance offers key benefits to fill gaps in existing phenology time series” – the use of archived footage can often be used to extrapolate measurements that weren’t taken at the time of filming.
If other researchers take note of this study, it’s likely that we’ll see the methodology replicated in other locales, perhaps even in areas unrelated to environmental studies. With the amount of raw video footage that’s created on a daily basis, there’s mountains of data for researchers to potentially utilize.