Phenomenal phenocam: Capturing effects of climate change
Perched high atop Paladin Stadium on the Furman University campus is a new camera with a bird’s-eye view of the seasons. Known as a phenocam, it is part of a growing national network of digital cameras that record phenology, or seasonal variations in tree canopy color, to help us understand the biological impacts of climate change.
Emily Gardella ’23, an Earth and environmental sciences major and data analytics minor, is largely responsible for the camera. For an independent study, her mentor, John Quinn, directed her to the National Science Foundation’s National Ecological Observatory Network, which houses a rich collection of data, including phenological information culled by the PhenoCam Network.
Gardella waded through the trove of data and images and realized Furman could also be part of the network. She put the wheels in motion to bring a phenocam to campus. Furman is now one of only two South Carolina universities represented on the network comprising approximately 700 total sites in the U.S. and across the globe.
Smaller than a shoebox, with its lens trained on the expanse looking toward Paris Mountain, Furmanpheno records images every 30 minutes, from sunup to sundown, 365 days a year. The photos are then uploaded to the PhenoCam Network server for processing, archiving and distribution.
Gardella used data from the PhenoCam Network throughout the procurement, coding and installation of the camera to study the resiliency of a landscape following a natural disaster, such as a wildfire. She looked at green chromatic coordinate values, a measure of greenness in vegetation, and analyzed irregularities to gauge a landscape’s ability to bounce back.
While Gardella was glad to dip her toes into the world of phenology with her study, the broader aim of the science is to gain clues about climate variations and their effects.
“It’s important that we use all our resources to track what’s going on for our future,” she said. “I think it’s awesome that Furman is getting involved with that. Furman can also track its own resiliency over time, or it can compare its phenology with other campuses. There’s a whole range of options. It’s really exciting to see our campus on the PhenoCam Network.”
Quinn said Emily rallied offices across the university to bring the phenocam online.
“Her leadership connected Furman with a national-scale effort to track ecological change over time,” he said. “I look forward to seeing how what she started grows in impact over the next few years.”