Students Explore Ecology Close to Home

March 1, 2018

Since last year, Princeton students have been doing intensive field work to study the impact of land-use change over a diverse and fast-changing landscape of forest, field, stream and lake. 

What might be surprising is that all this work was done right here at Princeton. Undertaken in partnership with Facilities and the Office of Sustainability, the research is part of the Campus as a Lab project, which uses the Princeton campus as a living laboratory to tackle global problems. 

Students measured sedimentary build-up in Lake Carnegie and compared it to historical baselines. The effect of forest buffers on mitigating runoff pollution in streams was tracked using PVC probes. Ground-level and aerial surveys of forested areas explored the possible impact of planned development on large tree density and native species. 

The research was shared in a March 1 presentation, “Analyzing Ecological Integrity: An Assessment of Princeton University’s Natural Areas,” at Butler College. Participating students were K. Duffey ‘19, A. Eyster ‘19, A. Getraer ‘19, B. Getraer ‘19, E. Geyman ‘19, L. Peng ‘19 and J. Pourtois ‘18.

The presenters highlighted opportunities for ongoing and future collaboration with Facilities, as well as the potential for involving students from a range of academic areas—visual arts, architecture, computer science and public policy, among others. 

Cost Savings With Drones

Aerial surveys were done using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data from small airplanes. This method of evaluating forest canopy using lasers is highly effective—and expensive. A proposed long-term monitoring plan would involve frequent forest surveys using eBee drones, with periodic fieldwork and LiDAR imaging every five years. 

These surveys would allow for environmental impacts of projects such as the proposed Lake Campus to be tracked and strategies for conservation and sustainability to be built into campus planning. 

Campus Forests at Princeton
Artemis Eyster '19 explains the benefits of forested areas on the Princeton campus as part of the "Analyzing Ecological Integrity" student research presentation.