NASA and Beekeepers Use Satellites and Scales to Monitor Climate Change Impact on Bees

nasa bees project photo
Weighing hives on Pine Branch to help compile a national "land use" map and see if bloom rates are different than they were in the past. Using the weights of hives, NASA researchers can see if climate patterns are changing, and perhaps affecting the bees.

Migrated Image / Tammy Horn /

In order to study the effects of climate change on pollinators, NASA has turned to the bees. With their project Honey Bee Net, NASA and associated researchers are trying to answer questions such as:

  • How will plant-pollinator interactions respond to climate and land-use changes?
  • Can modern ecosystem and climate models, based on extensive satellite observations, help us understand these changes?
  • How far north will the invasive Africanized Honey Bee (AHB) establish permanent residence in North America, and how will climate change affect this?

High tech is meeting evolution in order to discover how global warming is impacting one of the planet's most important insects. One part of the project includes weighing hives and determining nectar flow. Nectar flow shows how much access to flowers the bees are getting, and what might be impacting their access. Most of the participating hives are on the mid-Atlantic coast, but nationwide data collected by beekeepers willing to help out with adding data to the project is available.

Noticing the Nectar

By analyzing nectar flow in conjunction with plant blooms, beekeepers and researchers can study everything from how climate change is impacting blooms, the local impacts of people and land use on bees, and how bees and plants are interacting with one another.

nectar flow chart 

The project depends on the participation of beekeepers nationwide who sign up to provide data. NASA can also use high tech tools like satellites to add data on large-scale vegetation coverage and watch how climate and invasive species are affecting the habitats and health of our honey bees.

nectar map

By overlaying satellite images with data collected from beekeepers, NASA hopes to predict changes in vegetation and prevent colony collapse.

Climate is already having an impact on nectar flows

The Honey Bee Net project states: "Our Maryland data indicate that the peak nectar flow occurs nearly 4 weeks earlier than in the 1970's. This change of the nectar flow timing is likely due to climate changes and the warming effect of urbanization. Independent observations confirm that nectar sources are blooming earlier. How these changes will impact ecosystems and agriculture needs to be carefully assessed."

That means the network of beekeepers and close analysis of sites will be important in monitoring change and being proactive in protecting bees.