In 1938, a hurricane of ferocious proportions struck New England, killing hundreds of people, destroying and damaging thousands of homes, and toppling untold numbers of trees. At the Harvard Forest research station in Petersham, Massachusetts, which is owned by Harvard University and about an hour’s drive from MHC, that kind of weather event is central to the long-term research being done on the forest’s response to natural and human disturbances. This past summer, Lianna Lee ’12 and Sofiya Taskova ’12 were part of a thirtyfour-student cohort who participated in the station’s annual Research Experience for Undergraduates. They were supported, in part, by MHC’s Miller Worley Center for the Environment. The competitive, twelve-week program has accepted numerous MHC student researchers in its twenty-year history. Its current outreach manager, Clarisse Hart, is a 2003 alumna; Corietta TesheraSterne ’10 just spent her second summer there.
Mieke H. Bomann
Lee and Taskova each worked on an independent research project with an academic mentor and presented her work at the station’s annual research symposium in August. Lee, who is majoring in environmental studies, surveyed and measured tree growth and tree succession in the forest. Working with both an experimental plot—in which trees were intentionally pulled down to simulate the 1938 storm—
and a control plot, the New Hampshire native examined how the forest reinvigorates itself, as well as the needs of its ecosystem, after a storm. “Over time,” she discovered in her surveys, “it recovers with the same herbs and shrubs” as before the weather event, following a predictable pattern of regrowth. Taskova is a computer science major and also will earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Dartmouth College as part of MHC’s dual-degree program. Her project involved creating software to collect data while a scientist performs experiments—in this case measuring the flow of water through an ecosystem—so that they can later examine the data collection process along with the data itself. Working with Barbara Lerner, MHC associate professor of computer science, Taskova spent lots of time at her computer but was also sent into the forest to help collect data from the water sensors used in the hydrology project. “It’s rare to find a computer science research project in this environment,” said Taskova. “I was excited. It’s interdisciplinary.” —M.H.B. More harvard forestry
You can find more information about Professor Lerner’s ongoing project at www. mtholyoke.edu/~blerner/ DataProvenance/. See fascinating dioramas at Harvard Forest’s Fisher Museum, portraying the history of New England forests, at http:// harvardforest.fas.harvard. edu/museum.html.
At Work in Harvard Forest
Published on Oct 26, 2010
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