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Climate Change

Exploring Boston’s Urban Forest

Cities are made up of buildings and streets – but between and among human structures are thousands of trees that make up the urban forest.


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Urban forests are more than pretty: they mitigate climate change, improve psychological health, filter pollutants, and increase oxygen levels.

Cities are made up of buildings and streets, but between and among human structures are thousands of trees that make up the urban forest. Urban forests are more than pretty: they mitigate climate change, improve psychological health, filter pollutants, and increase oxygen levels.

Earthwatch is collaborating with the arborist of the City of Cambridge, just across the river from Boston, to collect data to study and protect the 18,000 trees that make up the city's critically important urban forest.

You'll be trained in techniques for identifying species, measuring and observing individual tree samples, and uploading data via mobile apps. During the course of the day you'll work in groups, exploring Cambridge's urban forest and collecting data on the health, growth patterns, and impact on buildings and streets of individual trees.

You'll help build a growing database of information needed to understand how trees positively impact urban areas and what trees need to survive and thrive in stressful environments.

The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

As cities grow, urban green space declines, leading to negative impacts on environmental quality and human well-being.

The impact of urban forests on biodiversity and the environment is significant - and it is increasing rapidly around the world.

Today, more than 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, and this number continues to rise. As cities grow, urban green space declines, leading to negative impacts on environmental quality and human well-being.

Although urban trees offer great benefits, they can also cause problems. Roots undermine sidewalks, leaves create slippery hazards, and branches fall on power lines. Their impact on the public makes trees an integral and active part of urban planning for most, if not all, cities and municipalities. Little research has been conducted on urban forests compared with research on typical forests, making Earthwatch's new Urban Forest Program an exciting and significant development.

As a volunteer, you’ll pioneer the work of Earthwatch's Urban Forest Project.

As a volunteer, you'll pioneer the work of Earthwatch's Urban Forest Project. In Cambridge, we will be comparing our findings with those of a study done five years ago. The objective of the project is to draw statistical comparisons over time that will allow city officials to relate changes in the urban forest (tree species and size) to changes in environmental conditions (road traffic density, height of surrounding buildings, and surface composition).

The information you collect will support improved management of urban trees and provide data to underscore the positive impact the urban forest has on the environment and local community.

About the research area

Your expedition will take place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, an historic town that has been declared a "Tree City USA" by the Arbor Day Foundation. Cambridge, located across the Charles River from the City of Boston, is home to two world-famous universities - Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - as well as numerous museums, historic sites, restaurants, theaters, and nightlife spots. While in Cambridge, you may want to take time to visit Harvard Square or take in a lecture, musical event, or street show.

Boston is considered by many to be the "capital of New England." Some of its highlights include the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route that leads you to 16 historically significant sites, including the Old North Church. Exploring the North End of Boston is like visiting Italy: it's home to authentic trattorias, bakeries, and winding cobblestone streets. Boston also boasts major sports venues, top-notch theater and music, attractions such as Faneuil Hall and the outdoor Haymarket, and world-class art, science, and cultural museums.

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

This is a summary:


  • MORNING: Meet at rendezvous, orientation, break into groups and walk to data collection sites, data collection, lunch around noon.
  • AFTERNOON: Complete data collection, meet for debriefing and discussion, end of day.

You’ll begin your expedition in the morning at the City of Cambridge Department of Public Works office. There, you’ll learn about the value of urban forests, the purpose of the research, overview of methods, and health and safety. You’ll also hear from local experts, including the Cambridge arborist who is partnering with Earthwatch on this project.

After an hour and a half of introduction and training, you’ll break into groups of three or four and walk to preassigned street segments. You’ll collect data for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon. In the field, you’ll note each tree’s location on a map of the city and use photos and drawings to identify tree species.

You’ll measure tree trunk diameters and make observations on the condition of the trees. You’ll also note the location of overhead wires and the impact of tree roots. You’ll enter all information into a mobile app, which will support the process of statistical analysis and report generation.

Your findings will help to answer major questions about the management of urban forests, such as: Which species are growing faster than others? Which species are dying faster (certain pests target particular species, so information on their prevalence can aid in forest management)? How is the forest growing or changing?

Note: Field conditions and research needs can lead to changes in the itinerary and activities. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Boston's Urban Forest

The impact of urban forests on biodiversity and the environment is significant - and is increasing rapidly around the world.

The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Vanessa
Boukili
Research Director, Urban Forests, Earthwatch

ABOUT Vanessa Boukili

Dr. Vanessa Boukili works with Earthwatch to research the urban forest and to see what kinds of tree species grow best in different types of environmental conditions.

READ MORE +

MEET THE OTHER SCIENTISTS

Accommodations and Food

Accommodations and Food

  • Lunch provided
  • No accommodations required

You’ll be provided with a healthy sandwich lunch and snacks while in the field. Exploring Boston’s Urban Forest is a one-day expedition, so no accommodation is provided.

If you’re a visitor to the Boston area, you have a wide range of options available to you, ranging from cozy bed-and-breakfast accommodations to world-class hotels, and from sandwich shops to world-class restaurants. Your group may opt to dine together following the expedition.

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