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Environmental Monitoring Stations

View of Cascade Brook Stream Station

The stream just before the Cascade Brook Stream Station. The wooden box on the left houses the monitoring equipment.

Another view from the Fire Tower monitoring station

Cascade Brook station radio repeater

The information that the measurement station collects is relayed to a radio repeater on the Hill of Pines, which sends the data to the Science Center.

Measuring rain at the Ridgetop monitoring station

The rain gauge has a balance measuring device which seesaws back and forth as it fills up with rain water. Each time it spills represents one cubic millimeter of rain water.

Open Lowland Station

Ridgetop Station

Solar panels at the Cascade Brook Stream Monitoring Station

The station is powered entirely by solar panels.

The forest as seen from the Fire Tower monitoring station

A view from the Fire Tower.

View of the Fire Tower monitoring station

Measuring air speed and direction at the top of the Fire Tower.

View of the Ridgetop environmental monitoring station

The solar panel powers the Ridgetop station. The white tube shaped monitor slightly above it monitors air temperature and relative humidity. Above that are the solar monitors GSAR and PAR and the wind speed and direction monitor. The cage on the bottom right holds the rain gauge.

View of the Science Center

The Science Center monitors outside conditions as well as its consumption of energy.

Wind monitors at the Ridgetop environmental sensor station

The wind speed and direction monitors at the Ridgetop station.

Record Type: Forest Story

Description: Since 1995, the Black Rock Forest Consortium has integrated into the Forest a network of remote, automated monitoring stations, instrumented with environmental sensors, which continuously measure and record properties of the air, soil and water.  The environmental monitoring network currently includes six stations.  All the information collected at these stations is automatically sent by radiotelemetry to a base station in the Science and Education Center once each hour.

The network can be used in many ways for educational purposes.

  • It can be quite valuable for students to see and understand the technology involved in modern scientific measurements, including digital sensors, computer dataloggers, solar panels, and radiotelemetry links. These can most readily be viewed by visiting the Open Lowlands environmental sensor station (behind the Old Forest Headquarters); students can discover for themselves where all the different sensors are located.
  • For lessons about weather or climate, it can be valuable for students to use hand-held instruments to measure some of the atmospheric parameters that the sensors record, and compare the readings with automated sensor readings.  Air temperature, atmospheric pressure, and relative humidity are good candidates for this purpose. The "Sensors/Senses" activity, available on the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory web site, allows students to investigate similarities and differences between electromechanical sensors and our human body's own senses.
  • The ability to examine data and use them to answer questions is an important goal for students that may be best learned with real data from real places.  Many of the environmental monitoring network data are available through this web site and Consortium members can request all from the Forest Data/Network Manager.  These data are most pertinent to classes which are studying, or have studied, subjects such as weather, the water cycle, and/or habitats.  Understanding how air, water, and soil vary across time and space is important for understanding both the causes and the consequences of environmental variability.  Thinking about causes leads to such questions as: Why does air temperature go up and down on a 24 hour cycle? Why does one site consistently have lower relative humidity than another?  Thinking about consequences leads to such questions as: Which of these places would be a better habitat for a particular animal of interest to me?
  • Real-time data are different every day, so one cannot prepare in advance by pre-analyzing the data as one could for an activity built around archived data.  Instead, teachers and students can “think aloud” as they observe and describe the salient properties of the data. Students should generate hypotheses about what might cause the data to look the way they do.  It can be enticing to know that the data are brand new and to contemplate that "we are the first people ever to describe and interpret this exact data set."

A suite of a dozen student activities based on data from the sensors has been developed to help students extend their experience of the Forest beyond the few hours of a typical one-day field trip, and is available on the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory web site.

Keyword: Environmental Monitoring