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

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]

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Beavers on Devon's River Otter to Become England's First Permanent Population in Centuries

Beavers were hunted to extinction in England in the 16th century, so locals were surprised to find a group of the mammals living on Devon's River Otter in 2008. Instead of moving the beavers, the Devon Wildlife Trust monitored the population to see how it would interact with the local environment. Now, as The Guardian reports, the government has deemed the beaver reintroduction program a success, meaning the species now has a permanent home in the country for the first time in centuries.

Though the North American beaver is better known, beavers are also native to Europe. Hunting reduced the Eurasian Beaver population to 1200 specimens by 1900. Their numbers have recovered in the years since, but they're still mainly limited to Scandinavia, Germany, France, Poland, and central Russia.

The beaver group currently living on the River Otter likely originated with either an accidental or unauthorized release. When local authorities discovered the beavers were breeding in 2014, they intended to relocate them to protect the local ecosystem. The Devon Wildlife Trust proposed an alternative: Allow the population to live on the river undisturbed for five years, and only remove them if they were proven to cause harm by the end of the trial.

The beavers did not hurt the environment—they actually added several benefits, according to the five-year study. The population, which now consists of 15 family groups, constructed 28 dams throughout the river system. These dams helped slow water flow during floods and contained water during droughts that would normally dry up riverbeds. The beaver-engineered habitat also allowed an increase in the number of water voles, fish, and amphibians.

When the trial officially ends on August 31, the beavers will become permanent residents of Devon in the eyes of the government. They're concentrated on the River Otter for now, but they're expected to expand beyond it, potentially starting new beaver populations in other parts of England for the first time in modern history.

[h/t The Guardian]