Last week marked the beginning of Bennington College’s Forest Biomass Assessment project. The goal of this project, funded by the College’s Sustainability Committee, is to determine the amount of standing biomass (a.k.a. the amount of wood in trees) thatexists in campus forestlands and to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) is being sequestered in that biomass. As trees grow and photosynthesize, they take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is held by the tree in its tissues as long as it is alive (the CO2 is later released when the tree dies and decomposes).
The project is being developed by the Sustainability Committee to explore the capacity of reforestation efforts on campus to offset some of the CO2 emissions produced by the College in other areas, such as travel. “There are some areas where, as an educational institution, we cannot avoid producing carbon emissions—student travel for study abroad or field work term, for example,” says Valerie Imbruce, Director of Environmental Studies at Bennington and co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee. “As a rural campus, however, one of our greatest assets is our forests. If we can manage those forests for carbon storage, it could have a big impact on our carbon footprint as a college.”
This summer, Alexandra Armanino ‘12 and Mara McPartland ’12 are starting the initial stage of this project by carrying out a detailed forest survey of the College’s campus. Using aerial photographs and GPS, Alex and Mara will identify and take measurements on about 20% of the trees on campus, as well as collecting soil samples and data on other landscape characteristics that influence vegetation growth.
In the fall term, a projects course on geographic information systems (GIS) taught by Tim Schroeder and Kerry Woods (ENV4110.01; Modeling Landscapes: An Intro to Applied GIS) will use the collected data to create detailed landscape maps that will aid in the development of a model to predict CO2 sequestration on campus.