This Red Oak Tree Has Its Own Twitter And It Shares Insight About Climate Change

Aug 14, 2019
Originally published on August 14, 2019 5:17 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Deep in the Harvard Forest of Massachusetts lives a towering red oak tree. It's no different from its neighbors except for the fact that it tweets.

LYNDA MAPES: It is actually the tree talking to us. All we're doing is translating, giving it a voice.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Lynda Mapes is a reporter for The Seattle Times and author of a book called "Witness Tree." It's a deep dive into the life of this particular red oak.

MAPES: My connection with this big oak tree is very intimate. I started visiting it when I was a science fellow at MIT. And then I moved in; married the tree, really.

CHANG: Mapes worked alongside scientists in the Harvard Forest for a year to better understand how climate change affects this tree. She lived right next door in a farmhouse.

KELLY: And her work inspired two researchers at Harvard University. They were the ones who installed sensors around the tree to measure things such as soil moisture, sap output and temperature. The sensors send that data to a computer program, which automatically analyzes it and tweets about it.

TIM RADEMACHER: If it's a very warm day, it will compare the daily temperature to all of the days in the past that we have data for. And it will put out a message saying, it was the 24th hottest day that I can remember.

CHANG: That is Tim Rademacher, the researcher who created the software. The tree is capable of tweeting about hundreds of conditions.

RADEMACHER: I thought it would be so much nicer to actually give the tree a proper voice and translate the data to reach a broader audience.

KELLY: Clarisse Hart is also on the team. She hopes the project will teach people about climate and environmental change.

CLARISSE HART: Considering the perspective of another organism is such an important thing for all of us to do. It's what's going to make the world better, ultimately.

CHANG: And Tim Rademacher will not stop until every tree can share data.

RADEMACHER: I dream of an Internet of trees. The hope is that you can follow your local tree. And it doesn't have to be trees, you know? It could be other things that tweet. It could be a mountain.

KELLY: In the meantime, you can follow @awitnesstree on Twitter today.

(SOUNDBITE OF OWEN PALLETT SONG, "DON'T STOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.