A Massachusetts Tree Is Live-Tweeting Its Perspective on Climate Change

insagostudio/iStock via Getty Images
insagostudio/iStock via Getty Images / insagostudio/iStock via Getty Images

Education has undergone some fundamental changes in recent years. Students pick up tablets instead of textbooks, and virtual courses have supplemented live lectures. And if you want to reach people, social media has become the way to do it. Which is why a Massachusetts oak tree is now live-tweeting its observations on everything from the weather to the color of its leaves.

In a detailed and wonderful piece for Atlas Obscura, writer Jessica Leigh Hester relates how the tree came to tweet. The 85-foot-tall northern red oak is located in Harvard Forest, a 4000-acre outdoor research property owned by Harvard University and located in Petersham, Massachusetts. Tim Rademacher, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and Northern Arizona University, wanted to reach people with a unique way of expressing the tree's experiences in response to environmental changes, so he equipped the tree with a series of sensors that can provide real-time data on its moisture level, sap flow, and fluctuations in the trunk and branches, among other measurements.

Using this information, the @witnesstree account fires off near-daily observations in a first-person (or first-tree) account of life as a stationary living organism.

Researchers involved in the project are adopting the voice of a tree to make the information feel more immediate, though they’re careful not to infer “feelings.” Usually, the tweets are based on data collected and compared to information stored by the Harvard Forest archive. When the tree tweets on July 21 that it was the “24th hottest day I remember,” its remembrance is based on fact: The Forest archive stretches back 55 years. When the tree seems to complain a bit about a heat wave, it’s because researchers can monitor the flow of sap, which is affected by water and temperature.

Rademacher envisions a future where other areas like mountains or regional trees are monitored and offer similar observations. All of them experience the same environmental changes we do—and now, thanks to Rademacher and his team, they can have a voice, too.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]