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Briggs collage

New Camera Monitors Seasonal Changes of the Sanford Natural Area

You don’t need to live in Holmes Hall anymore to have a great view of the Sanford Natural Area behind our building. The Sanford Natural Area is one of 86 research sites across North America where researchers are collecting data on vegetation by using digital cameras known as “phenocams.” A phenocam mounted on the roof of Holmes Hall takes images of Sanford Natural Area and uploads them to a server at the University of New Hampshire.

The images from all 86 sites are collected and studied by a team of researchers led by Dr. Andrew Richardson of Harvard University. Richardson and his team use these images to monitor the changes in plant seasonal cycles and the influence of factors such as temperature and precipitation. This study of plant seasonal cycles is called phenology.

Dr. Mark Schwartz, a Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is largely responsible for Lyman Briggs College’s involvement in the project. Schwartz helped set up two phenocams on UW-Milwaukee’s campus and then realized that his alma mater, Lyman Briggs College, would be a good candidate for a phenocam as well.

Schwartz explains that the phenocam project bridges the gap between data collected through satellite imagery and data collected from individual observations. By analyzing the greenness of the canopies shown in the view of the cameras, researchers are able to track the changing of seasons over time. The data will show how climate change is affecting vegetation phenology at these particular sites.

Dr. Rob LaDuca and Joe Murray of Lyman Briggs College, as well as Chip Hornburg and Matt Winowiecki of MSU’s Residential Education and Housing Services, helped arrange the installation of the phenocam. LBC’s involvement with the project provides a great opportunity for our students and the community to learn more about phenology.

You can view updated images of Sanford Natural Area and learn more about the phenology on the project website. You can also view live images from the camera here.