You and I will likely never live to see it, but if your grandkids are planning a trip to New England for the end of this century, you'll want to remind them to charge up their camera implants, because they're in for a treat!

Yup, if you're not in one of those poor developing nations, autumns in 2099
are going to be super-fantastic!
Tourists flock to the eastern United States and Canada every year to check out the autumn leaf displays. These tourists, charmingly known as "leef peepers," spend billions of dollars on their vacations, making a significant contribution the the region's economy. Previous studies have suggested that climate change may significantly affect the spring cycles of various tree species, but what about autumn cycles? Will autumn leaves in the future be less vibrant than they are today? Could climate change lead to the demise of leaf peeping as we know it (or have just learned of it)?

Apparently, quite the opposite! Researchers at the Harvard Forest predict that climate change will bring about an overall increase in the amount of autumn colours for several New England tree species. Looking at long-term data for the maple, gum, cherry, ash, and oak trees, researchers found that the duration and amount of autumn colour changed in response to variation in temperature and rainfall. They then took two standard IPCC projections (called A1fi and B1) for climate change and modelled the likely effects of these scenarios on forest leaves.

Their results show significant change in timing and colouration for most tree species.  Their figures didn't really speak to me, so I've re-imagined the one about colour change below. 

Change in colour under two IPCC scenarios for eight tree species by 2099.
(Adapted poorly from 
Archetti et al. 2013.)
I've removed the error bars here, and generally USA Today-ed it up for ya (please see the original if you like accuracy). I'm not sure exactly what the units here represent in terms of colour change, though. For example, what does the biggest change predicted (the increase of 6 for black gum) mean in real terms? How big a colour change is 6?

In any case, the good news appears to be that the leaf peepers and leaf-peeping industry in general have nothing to fear from climate change. This would seem to refute three previous studies reported by the Associated Press, one of the claims in a report from last October by the Democrats' Natural Resources Committee, and concerns raised in various other sources.

However, as Archetti and colleagues note, it's a bit early to celebrate yet. With this significant an overall change on the timing and duration of autumn colours, we'll likely see a "dramatic impact" on carbon cycling and competitive interactions between species.

But upside: pretty!