Deep in the woods at Alley Pond Park in Queens is a laboratory that looks like something out of a weather fanatic’s wild imagination.
Attached to a lofty oak are a webcam and a wind vane, humidity and temperature sensors, rain gauges and instruments to measure solar radiation. The high-tech tools, which transmit information in real time, are part of the United States Forest Service’s new “smart forest” initiative, in which data is collected from selected woodlands to help scientists manage landscapes in a changing climate.
At 635 acres, Alley Pond Park, at the head of Little Neck Bay, is the first urban forest to be included in the current crop of a half-dozen wired forests across the Northeast. And despite its location in one of the most populous and developed corners of the country, its natural features remain intact, including freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows and forests.
The data collection began in 2011, when researchers at Drexel University teamed up with the city’s parks department to study the sylvan nook inside the park, along with two other engineered green spaces in the city designed to capture storm-water runoff. But the Forest Service has now added Alley Pond Park to its Smart Forest Network.
Lindsey E. Rustad, a research ecologist with the Forest Service and co-director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Northeast Climate Hub, said that scientists had extensive data on pristine wilderness areas, but needed a better grasp of urban forests.