WITNESS TREE CAM GOES LIVE AT HARVARD FOREST
The work of many hands, the Witness Tree Cam is now live at the Harvard Forest. With a click, now anyone anywhere can be in on the unfolding story of the Witness Tree, a single red oak we are exploring at the Harvard Forest to understand its 100-year human and natural history. The web cam enables viewers to watch this tree go through the seasons — and just enjoy a spectacular tree in a beautiful New England wood. Take at look at the other web cams hosted on the same web page. The other cameras show views of swaths of the Harvard Forest, including the Barn Tower, where the Witness Tree lives. Images are uploaded every 30 minutes during daylight hours, year round.
Scientists in the Richardson Lab at Harvard University use these Web cams to track the effect of climate change on the forest, which can be interpreted from the seasonal progression of the forest canopy and other measurements. In one tree, one forest, and one region, we truly can see the effects of global change. Phenology, or the study and recording of regularly occurring changes in nature, is one of the oldest written biological records. The practice has new relevance today as scientists look for signs in nature of climate change and its ecological effects. At the Harvard Forest, scientists have documented on average earlier springs, later falls, longer growing seasons, and red oaks like the Witness Tree growing faster than ever, while using water more efficiently. But other trees, such as hemlock, are martyrs to climate change. The hemlock wooly adelgid, an invasive insect, is spreading in its range throughout New England due to lack of killing cold in winter, and at the Harvard Forest, hemlocks are disintegrating.
The idea of following one tree to tell the story of our changing world emerged while I was a visitor in the Richardson Lab last year as a Knight Fellow in Science Journalism at MIT. With help from the Knight fellowship and the Richardson Lab, I researched the idea for a book about what we were learning at the forest. I’m writing Witness Tree, under contract with Bloomsbury Publishing now, as a Bullard Fellow at the Harvard Forest.
The Web cam was the idea of Wade Roush, acting director of the Knight program at MIT, who thought it would be cool to compile time lapse images of the tree through its seasons for a film about the Witness Tree project that some of the Knight fellows in the KSJ program are making this year. They’ve been out to film the Richardson Lab at work, and John O’Keefe, the field phonologist at the Harvard Forest, as he surveys trees — including the Witness Tree — on a weekly walk in spring and fall.
The Knight program bought the Web cam to lend to the Witness Tree project, and Patrick Wellever at KSJ, the crack team at the Richardson Lab led by Andrew Richardson, and Emery Boose, Rollie Meunier and Julie Pallant at the Harvard Forest provided the sweat, smarts, and technical chops to make it happen.
It’s a beautiful tree, with a lot to tell us about our changing world.