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Grape-harvest dates hold climate clues

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7:34pm, November 5, 2001

The vintner's age-old habit of picking no grapes before their time may give scientists a tool for determining European climate patterns for the past 500 years.

Grapevines are particularly sensitive to the temperature and amounts of precipitation they're exposed to at various phases of their 2-year fruit-production cycle. A pair of French researchers contend that an analysis of the yearly grape-harvest dates in Europe could help climatologists fill in the blanks of the continent's postmedieval climate records.

Europe's weather, especially in the winter, is driven by the so-called North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO index measures the difference in pressure between a region of nearly permanent low atmospheric pressure hovering near Iceland and a region of high pressure that typically resides off the northwestern coast of Africa. Changes in the index affect the paths of storms and low-pressure systems crossing the Atlantic and moving into Europe (SN: 10/25/97, p. 268

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