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Creating A New England Forest Map

Friday, June 6, 2014, by Sofie McComb
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[Matthew Duveneck and Sofie McComb analyzing data in the scripting language R]The first week at Harvard Forest has passed and it already feels like I have been here for a month. There is always so much going on and so many things happening that time just flies by. Orientation was a two day whirlwind and finally on day three all the students got to meet their mentors and get to work. I am working over the summer with my mentor Matthew Duveneck, who is a post doc working with Dr. Jonathan Thompson, who is my advising professor. The project I am working on with them is the creation of a map of the New England Forest based on satellite image data, data collected by researchers on the ground, and software simulation. An initial map is being constructed in order to characterize the present New England Forest. This map will then be used as a starting point in a simulation model that uses our knowledge of how New England Forest ecosystems function to predict how the forest might change under a variety of future scenarios. These scenarios include future conditions resulting from increased development and timber harvest, as well as climate change.

My work this summer will mainly focus on managing and reconfiguring datasets from different states in New England in order to create the initial map of the New England Forest. This map can be used to improve the accuracy of the simulation model.  Variables of the datasets to be analyzed include the tree species, the number of living trees, and the diameter of the trees found. I manipulate and analyze the different datasets in order to create a single new dataset that accurately represents the present forest conditions. This single dataset can then be used to help run the simulation model to simulate future potential conditions.

I spend my days in the beautiful indoors at my dual computer screen, so I make sure to go on runs and bike rides through the forest and to the Country Store in order to get outside and enjoy the beautiful New England Summer. I am from Texas, so it is nice to be able to go outside during the summer, instead of taking refuge indoors from the above hundred degree weather and suffocating humidity.

Five tips for any future REU students:[Sofie, fellow REU stdents, and Summer Program Proctor, Sam Knapp, on a weekend hike up Mt. Toby.]

1. Ticks are a big deal here. For exploring the forest, make sure to bring a lot of long pants and long socks. Tuck your pants into your socks. Don’t worry, it looks super cool.

2. Bring cash. It is hard to get to a bank and not all places take debit or credit. Bring a little cash to shop at a farmers market, pick up some ice cream, or pay for gas when going on trips.

3. Think of fun card and party games to play. Get everyone in the living room on Friday nights to play games and interact.

4. Petersham is composed of five buildings: a country store, library, town hall, church, and the old abandoned school girls building. Prepare for that.

5. The food is amazing. Like restaurant level. Prepare to eat a ton of delicious food and to workout in order to stay in shape. Because you will want seconds. Of everything.


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