As an Earthwatch volunteer, you’ll pioneer a research effort undertaken by Earthwatch’s Urban Forest Project. In San Francisco, we will be undertaking an initial study to develop benchmarks for drawing statistical comparisons over time. Your work will allow non-profits and city officials to relate change in the urban forest (tree species and size) to changes in environmental conditions (road traffic density, height of surrounding buildings, and surface composition). The information you collect will support improved management of urban trees, and provide data to underscore the positive impact the urban forest has on the environment and local community.
As a volunteer, you’ll begin your Expedition with an introductory presentation to provide you with an understanding of the value of urban forests, the purpose of the research, overview of methods, and health and safety. You’ll hear not only from primary investigator Kelaine Vargas Ravdin but also from local experts involved with the San Francisco Urban Forest Map project.
Then you will go outside for hands-on training in methods of observation, measurement, and data entry, using trees right outside the office as models.
After an hour and a half of introduction and training, you will break into groups of 3-4, and walk to pre-assigned street segments. You will be collecting data for the rest of the morning and the majority of the afternoon. In the field, you’ll note each tree’s location on a map of the city, and use photos and drawings to identify tree species. You’ll take measurements of tree trunk diameter, and make observations to help determine the condition of the trees. You’ll also note the location of overhead wires and the impact of tree roots. Each tree is located in a soil “well;” you’ll observe and note the well’s size, composition, and permeability. You’ll enter all information into a mobile app, which will support the process of statistical analysis and report generation.
Your findings will help to answer major questions surrounding the management of urban forests; for example:
- Which species are growing faster than others?
- Which species are dying faster? (Certain pests target particular species; understanding their prevalence can aid in forest management.)
- How is the forest growing/changing?
For the last hour of your expedition you will meet the rest of the team in a central location to debrief and discuss your findings.
Meet the Scientists
Kelaine Vargas Ravdin
Kelaine Vargas Ravdin is an urban ecologist whose work focuses on recognizing and maximizing the role of nature in achieving sustainability. She has a background in ecology and landscape architecture and has pursued research in these fields as a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin and with the U.S. Forest Service. Her firm, Urban Ecos, LLC, offers ecological and technological services, including oversight of the San Francisco Urban Forest Map, to make our cities greener, more sustainable, and more environmentally sound.