Forget about Internet of Things’ poster child – the connected fridge. The importance of this emerging technology goes far beyond remembering to order milk.
From experimental forests to tracking elephant seals and smart beehives, scientists and technologists worldwide are running pioneering projects to examine climate change, save honeybees from extinction and even save humanity itself. IoT is at the forefront of many major projects taking place right now and having fundamental effect on progress.
Take Harvard, for example, which has wired up a whole forest in central Massachusetts with thousands of IoT sensors in order to track real time changes and patterns in global climate change. Harvard has been gathering data here since 1907 when it first acquired the land. Until recently, however, the technologies used posed many problems, from lightning strikes and animals chewing through wires to the practicalities of lack of access points for Wi-Fi networks.
So what exactly are the scientists measuring? Originally the site was used to solely track trees and vegetation, but since the Harvard Forest became a Long-Term Ecological Research Site (LTER) in 1988, they’ve studied the whole ecosystem from soil to streams, insects to air. As such, phenology has become the core mission of the Harvard Forest, that is the study of natural cycles. It is built upon the premise that everything in the natural world is inextricably intertwined, that even the tiniest microorganism can shape the fate of the towering oak.
Ultimately, in understanding and unravelling these connections, the scientists will be able to predict what will happen in this part of the world as the planet warms.
Each experimental site in the forest has different sensors and devices associated with it, from ‘sap-flux’ sensors for trees to atmospheric sensors measuring the air and Raspberry-Pi acoustic sensors to measure animals and insects. The knowledge gathered through these networks is already uncovering fundamental discoveries about nature, its biological processes and how they have changed over the past 25 years.
Through this knowledge and the ongoing study, scientists are on track to formulate strategies to combat the worst effects of climate change across the globe.
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