A Debriefing Of The Fall Leaves Color Palette

photo from Pinterest.com

Your walk to class has never been more scenic as fall finds its way back to State College. Fall foliage is a wonderfully autumnal sight we all love to see, and it comes down to some relatively basic scientific and environmental processes. So, to encapsulate “The Lorax,” let VALLEY take this time to speak for the trees.

Photo posted by @Pennstate on Instagram
The Process

There are three chemicals that are involved in the leaves changing color. The basis is chlorophyll, which makes the leaves as green as they are in summer and spring. Once fall comes along, the production of chlorophyll slows down, and that is when carotenoids and anthocyanins start to be produced. Carotenoids are involved in the creation of orange, yellow and brown leaves, while anthocyanins give us red.

The cold weather in addition to the longer nights is what activates the carotenoids and anthocyanins. The ideal weather that makes for the most vibrant colors is a sunny day with a chillier night. Photosynthesis has a lot to do with chlorophyll, as it relies heavily on light. This is why longer nights affect the production of chlorophyll, because there is much less light for the leaves to take in. Eventually, as the days get shorter and colder, the host trees chemical connection to its leaves gets cut off, making the different colors come through. 

Photo from Pinterest.com
Climate Changes Correlation

With this being said, it is easy to see that the overall warming of our earth is not good when it comes to wanting a colorful fall. Warmer temperatures delay the start of fall, along with the changing of the leaves since the proper amount of light that allows photosynthesis to occur is still readily available. Extreme weather caused by climate change, like floods and tropical storms, can also mess with the vibrancy of the leaves. The change of the leaves and the seasons in general is always hard to anticipate considering how many factors go into creating a unique season. Climate change makes this even harder to predict, especially with its worsening conditions.

What we do know: Climate change is delaying the changing of the leaves. It also is making the colors that do appear much duller.

Have you noticed any colorful foliage this season? Show us your favorite fall photos, @VALLEYmag, on Twitter!


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