Photographing climate change

27 July 2012


A project using time lapse photography to monitor difficult to reach alpine and polar environments has been granted funding from the John Fell Fund.

Dr. Marc Macias Fauria, James Martin Fellow at the Biodiversity Institute, plans to place four time lapse cameras high in the altitudinal treeline area of the Canadian Rockies, some 2,000 metres above sea level, thus setting up a network of snow gauges.

“Cold environments such as alpine or polar ecosystems are often data deficient because they are logistically difficult to reach and work in,” explained Marc and project partner Dr Tom Hart, Institute of Zoology. “Much of what we know about these systems is confined to established research sites such as near scientific bases or roads or measured by satellite from space. Satellite monitoring is less applicable to many aspects of animal and plant ecology or environmental studies that cannot be estimated from overhead imagery.”

Starting in September, Marc plans to photograph two study sites in order to measure how climate change is affecting the fine-scale snow distribution on slopes. “We believe that snow depth is very important for protecting seedlings through the winter and can shorten the growing season if the snow stays for too long in spring. For many places in the treeline area, snow spatial arrangement is potentially crucial to facilitate growth of trees on higher mountain slopes”. Marc hopes to discover how much these growth patterns are changing as a result of global warming.

Lapse cameras take a picture every 15 minutes. Their batteries last a minimum of a year, and so they can be placed on a given point of interest and they will monitor the area constantly. Data including images, snow depth information, temperature and other environmental variables will be retrieved remotely, either via WIFI or via satellite phone.

Dr Tom Hart, the co-applicant of this joint project, will place four more cameras in Antarctica, with the aim of monitoring the population numbers and movement dynamics of a number of penguin species.

Both researchers plant to continue monitoring conditions over a period of several years.

More about Dr Marc Macias Fauria

Biodiversity Institute

More about Dr Tom Hart, Institute of Zoology

More about the John Fell Fund