Students at Ivy Academy in Chattanooga are partnering with the Smithsonian Institute to help create the world's first global tree observatory, monitoring how forest trees are responding to their climates.
In a patch of pocket wilderness behind the environmental charter school in Soddy-Daisy, along the North Chickamauga Creek, about a dozen students will begin banding trees to get baseline measurements that they will enter into the worldwide database of SI's Tree Banding Project. They will also monitor other environmental factors over the next three years, such as water quality, runoff and human destruction in the woods.
Although the banding won't begin until June at Ivy Academy, students around the world have already begun monitoring activities that will measure the rate their local trees grow at and comparing it to Smithsonian research and to other students' results worldwide, according to the project website.
Ivy Academy is one of 490 schools from 38 different countries now participating that will be providing information that will be used to predict further effects on local and global ecologies.
According to Thankful Davis, an art educator at Ivy and manager of the school's partnership with the Smithsonian, the students will also receive help from the local forestry department as well as parents and staff.
A team of students led by a core group of ninth-graders involved with extracurricular STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) projects will install dendrometers (tree) bands at the beginning of June and take the first baseline measurement about a month later, using digital calipers. The calipers will be used to measure gaps in the band over the next few years.Â A minimum of four measurements will be taken in the first year of the study to monitor changes through the growing season.
Participation in the global study will not only allow the students to be a part of a larger initiative while interacting with other students from all over the world, but will also provide an opportunity to measure and discover the health of their outdoor classrooms.
Alec Ricketts, a ninth-grader at Ivy Academy, is very familiar with the creek and surrounding woods that now serve as his high school classroom. He grew up in Soddy-Daisy, as did his parents and grandparents. Ricketts will be taking a leadership role with the tree banding project but is already very aware of his surroundings and the changing factors that impact the environment.
"It's a bit nostalgic for me. I've lived in Soddy-Daisy my entire life, and I've been coming up through this creek swimming for years and years," he said.
Davis said Ricketts is very outspoken and cares greatly about many things in and beyond his own backyard.
As Ricketts considers entering a possible career in environmental science or one of his other interests, he said it hurts him to see the man-made destruction of natural areas around his home.
He describes watching the removal of a wooded preserve to make way for two new fast-food restaurants as "very painful to see."
"It was already well-preserved with just a few houses, and that was about it. One of my mother's childhood friends lived back there. He died in a car accident, and now his house has been demolished," Ricketts said.
Bringing that awareness and passion back into the wooded classroom at Ivy is exactly what the school hopes will help foster the future generation of environmental stewards.
"Ivy is using this as a chance to spur student-driven environmental dialogue in our local community. One thing we try to do is look at environmental careers and give kids an opportunity to see and actually engage with professionals who are in those careers and an opportunity to look closer at them," Davis said.
Ricketts and the other students at Ivy will also participate in Smithsonian-sponsored webinars throughout the study that will feature leading scientists and environmental experts from around the world.