Dispatches from Harvard Forest

I'm currently attending the Marine Biological Laboratory's 10-day science journalism fellowship. As part of that, I get to do some hands-on science experiments and get a better perspective on how the work of science is done and how data is collected. Along with five other fellows, I spent last weekend collecting A LOT of data in Massachusetts' Harvard Forest—3,500 acres of extremely well-documented wilderness.

All this week, I'll be posting some of the highlights from my trip—videos and photos that will introduce you to the Harvard Forest, how science is done in the field, and to some of the key ideas that I'm learning during my time here.

This will be the central access point for all those posts. Check back every day to see what's new.

In This Series:
Scientific Research in a Forest
How Past Land Use Affects the Current Landscape
How To: Collect 6000-year-old swamp mud
Climbing a rickety stair to the top of the forest
What's your diameter breast height?
The secret world of swamp mud


  1. My Dad did work in the Harvard Forest in the late 40’s, while a forestry student at UMass.  He still talks about it, a great place to do research.

  2. I grew up near the Harvard Forest. My grandfather used to take me there often; we would visit the small display center they had and hike around for the afternoon. It’s a beautiful experience.

  3. Living out West as I do, five square miles hardly seems like much of a “wilderness” area, and on google maps I can’t find an area near their self-reported map location which shows even a couple square miles without a road going through it?

    I’m all for researching wildlands, but I have to wonder how man’s impact in the rural areas around their forest effect their research. As just one example, I can’t see how an area that small could have its own herds of deer. Many of the animals which live in that forest must range outside of it,  a bobcat or coyote surely would and even small rodents might. Even if research is limited to plants, what effects does man’s nearby influence have upon these plants? And is fallow farmland from a century-and-a-half ago really a useful proxy for areas untouched by man’s saws? I do suppose that the area is probably a useful proxy for other of these overgrown farms, and previously cleared areas do make up the majority of the East’s forests.

    It seems to me this is most likely the world’s most studied forest only because it is a convenient forest to study. I know that there isn’t much “wilderness” left in Massachusetts, but surely there are better wilderness areas to study in Maine and Vermont.

  4. There is a virgin hemlock forest in the middle of the Bronx Botanical Garden.


  5. Actaully, the most-studied Forest on the planet is – owned, managed and studied by Oxford University.
    Associted with this project is the more recent Wytham Woods

  6. It’s interesting to think how our concepts of what a ‘wild” forest is have changed as we learn more and more of how the humans how lived in these forest before the European colonization took place. Descriptions from that time, and the archaeology are revealing a vastly different kind of forest than what the first conservationists thought it was during the times of Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and even quite a few of our more modern conservationists. Of course some changes cannot be reversed…the earthworm and honey bee, invasive though they may be, are here to stay…as are the rest of us. Cheers.

  7. Huh. I grew up the next town over (Barre) probably haven’t  been to that forest in 3 decades. Still remember it though.

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