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New Tweeting Tree Is Climate Change Storyteller

July 20, 2019
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The view under a red oak tree known as the witness tree.

This month, Harvard Forest launched the first tweeting tree in North America. 

The project has been years in the making. The 100-year-old red oak tree first came into the spotlight in 2017, as the focal point for the climate change book Witness Tree, written by visiting Bullard Fellow Lynda Mapes. In 2018, post-doctoral fellow Tim Rademacher (from Northern Arizona University and Harvard Forest) installed sensors in and around the tree, hoping to continue Mapes' storytelling mission through data-driven stories on social media. 

In 2018, students began contributing to the social media project: Kyle Wyche and Shawna Greyeyes from the Harvard Forest Summer Research Program and Alexa Rice from the Harvard Divinity School joined Rademacher and HF Outreach Director Clarisse Hart to write program code and formulate multimedia messages that would allow the tree to tweet about its growth, sap flow, and changing environment in real time.

Since its launch on Twitter in July 2019, the Harvard Forest Witness Tree has become a sensation, engaging thousands of followers from around the world.

Future plans for the project include a Facebook account for the tree, French and Spanish versions of the project, and a tool-kit for educators to create their own tweeting trees.

Funding for the project is provided in part by the National Science Foundation.

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