Founded in 1907, the Harvard Forest has served as a laboratory and classroom for the University for 115 years. The forest is 70 miles from Cambridge in Petersham, Massachusetts. Visitors enter the sprawling property via the Fisher Museum, a couple miles off Route 2. The museum is neighbored by houses for visitors and research facilities.
A handful of cows graze in a pasture at the entrance to the forest. One of them eagerly approached the fence as visitors walked by.
The forest is located on the land of the Nipmuc Nation. The University’s relationship with Indigenous people and its stewardship of the land was a focus of the October guided tour, which fell on Indigenous People’s Day. Above, the group sets out on a two-mile guided field walk.
The forest contains a vast diversity of trees. Regular measurements of them are taken in tree censuses spanning the scope of the forest to observe large scale changes.
There are currently dozens of ongoing research projects at the Harvard Forest. One of the longest running experiments on soil warming has been collecting data since 1991. The experiment offers a look at how global mean temperature increase due to climate change will affect forest ecosystems. Above is a plot for the soil warming experiment.
A small salamander crawls underneath a piece of bark and fallen leaves next to the research plots.
Harvard Forest maintains five research towers across the forest, two of which can be walked up. Above is the Hardwood Tower, which stands 92 feet high.
On top of the Hardwood Tower, visitors take in sights of the canopy below, balancing themselves as the platform sways lightly in the wind.
The research towers contain equipment to take a variety of measurements, from carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gas levels to solar radiation, temperature, humidity, and more. One of the devices interfaces with a NASA satellite, providing local data in conjunction with other research stations around the world.
The panoramic view from the top of the research tower puts the changing leaves on full display, and also allows viewers to see them up close. Below, oak leaves in the canopy slowly start to change color.
The Harvard Forest’s monthly tours pick back up in February.