Schoolyard tree canopy webcam aids national phenology study

Network News Fall 2011, Vol. 24 No. 2

The first camera-based observatory of phenological responses to climate change in a K-12 schoolyard is up and running. This year, HFR faculty member Andrew Richardson and long-time Schoolyard LTER teacher Kate Bennett assisted middle-school teacher JoAnn Mossman in purchasing and installing the camera as part of a continental-scale phenology monitoring, modeling and forecasting effort called PhenoCam, for which Richardson is an active developer. As a result, students at the Overlook Middle School in Ashburnham, MA, can now track seasonal budburst and leaf color change on a webcam overlooking their schoolyard’s forest canopy. The image data will complement the students’ on-the-ground, tree-based data collected through HFR LTER’s “Buds, Leaves, and Global Warming” Schoolyard Ecology project.

The Overlook site is the first Schoolyard site in the country to install a PhenoCam camera. The images are publicly accessible online as part of the PhenoCam network’s infrastructure and can be easily compared to images from other areas in the country. Harvard Forest’s Schoolyard program is hoping to install 4 more cameras at additional Schoolyard sites over the coming year.

Phenology is an excellent gateway to engaging students in the study of long-term climate change. HFR’s “Buds Leaves and Global Warming” Schoolyard phenology protocol has inspired more than two thousand K-12 students to contribute data over the past 7 years. Bennett, one the teachers engaged in the “Buds” project, worked at Harvard Forest this summer with mentor Andrew Richardson in a project funded by a grant from NASA. Her team, which included a small group of REU students, spent 11 weeks investigating several aspects of webcamera-based phenology techniques. Reflecting the merits of this approach, Richardson recently published two research papers on camera-based phenology and albedo (a measure of how objects reflect light). The papers were co-authored by former REU students based on data they collected at Harvard Forest in 2009 and 2010.


  • Frequently updated canopy images at Overlook Middle School in Massachusetts (
  • Real-time images from Harvard Forest LTER’s PhenoCam cameras (
  • Summer 2011 REU research profile of Harvard Forest PhenoCams (
  • Andrew Richardson’s NSF grant abstract supporting PhenoCam research Overlook Middle School canopy cam – October 2011 (