Mason graduate student’s Cherry Blossom Monitoring research uses Mason as a living lab to assess how climate change affects the bloom date of cherry blossom trees on the Fairfax campus.
Over the last year, Graduate Student, Jamie Roth, has been leading an interdisciplinary research project alongside faculty members in the Department of Statistics – Dr. Jonathan Auerbach and Dr. David Kepplinger, as well as Dr. Daniel Hanley from the Biology Department.
Roth designed this project as a long-term opportunity to teach Mason students to collect, process, analyze, and communicate about data using resources available on campus. The long-term data will reflect how Mason’s local ecosystem responds to the effects of climate change and create a visible marker for an otherwise invisible impact. By having students collect and analyze data on the bloom date of the cherry blossom trees at Mason Pond, (part of their coursework in STAT490 and STAT634) and integrating it with Mason’s local meteorological data, variations can be tracked over time to build a more accurate model for the bloom date of the cherry blossom trees at Mason.
To implement this project, Roth received funding from University Sustainability’s Patriot Green Fund – a grant from Mason Facilities that allows the campus community to develop infrastructure solutions that reduce Mason’s environmental impact as well as student research projects that explore sustainability topics in the region.
With this support, the project team worked collaboratively with Mason Facilities Project Manager, Nick Valadez, to determine the best locations to mount trail cameras and a weather station in order to monitor the cherry blossoms over time. This was key to the project because even a minor variation in the microclimate can affect phenological events, like bloom times. Once determined, Abu Monjer, Project Manager in Facilities Management, supported the installations in time for the project to launch for this year’s blooms.
“This project has been a great opportunity for me to tie together local climate data to the flora on the Mason campus and hopefully lay groundwork for future environmental projects,” said Roth.
This research builds on the international Cherry Blossom Prediction Competition, which Auerbach and Kepplinger help organize. This competition assembles data on the peak bloom date of cherry trees all over the world, from Kyoto, Japan to Vancouver, B.C, and this project will bring Mason into this global arena, ensuring our ecosystem is represented.
This initiative serves as a pilot project for the Institute for a Sustainable Earth’s Mason Living Labs Initiative, which is designed to encourage and support students, faculty, and staff to pose questions, experiment, gather data, monitor changes, and propose novel solutions to a range of sustainability challenges associated with the George Mason University campus environment and its socio-environmental systems. Learn more about the Living Labs initiative and the Cherry Blossom Monitoring project during the virtual event launch on April 12, 2023 at 2 PM.
Story Credit: Sarah D'alexander