Budding scientist monitors Mason’s iconic cherry blossoms

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Over the last year, George Mason University graduate student Jamie Roth has been leading an interdisciplinary research project alongside faculty members in biology and statistics.

cherry blossom researchers pose by the trees
Mason's cherry blossom monitoring team (from left) includes Jonathan Auerbach, Jamie Roth, David Kepplinger, and Daniel Hanley. Photo by Genamarie McCant/Mason Facilities

Roth designed this project as a long-term opportunity to teach Mason students to collect, process, analyze, and communicate about data using resources available on campus. The long-term data will reflect how Mason’s local ecosystem responds to the effects of climate change and create a visible marker for an otherwise invisible impact.

By having Mason statistics students collect and analyze data on the bloom date of the cherry blossom trees at Mason Pond, as a part of their coursework in STAT 490 Capstone in Statistics and STAT 634 Case Studies in Data Analysis, and integrating it with Mason’s local meteorological data, variations can be tracked over time to build a more accurate model for the bloom date of the cherry blossom trees at Mason.  

To implement this project, Roth received funding from Office of University Sustainability’s Patriot Green Fund, a grant from Mason Facilities that allows the campus community to develop infrastructure solutions that reduce Mason’s environmental impact as well as support student research projects that explore sustainability topics in the region. 

trail cameras
Trail cameras and a weather station monitor the campus cherry blossoms over time. Photo by Genamarie McCant/Mason Facilities

With this support, the project team, which includes faculty members Jonathan Auerbach and David Kepplinger in the Department of Statistics and Daniel Hanley in the Biology Department, worked collaboratively with Mason Facilities Project Manager Nick Valadez to determine the best locations to mount trail cameras and a weather station in order to monitor the cherry blossoms over time. This was key to the project because even a minor variation in the microclimate can affect phenological events, like bloom times. Once that information was determined, Abu Monjer, a project manager in Facilities Management, supported the installations in time for the project to launch for this year’s blooms.   

“This project has been a great opportunity for me to tie together local climate data to the flora on the Mason [Fairfax] Campus and hopefully lay groundwork for future environmental projects,” said Roth, who is majoring in biostatistics. 
This research builds on the international Cherry Blossom Prediction Competition, which Auerbach and Kepplinger help organize. This competition assembles data on the peak bloom date of cherry trees all over the world, from Kyoto, Japan, to Vancouver, British Columbia, and this project will bring Mason into this global arena, ensuring our ecosystem is represented.  

This initiative is a pilot project for the Institute for a Sustainable Earth’s Mason Living Labs Initiative, which is designed to encourage and support students, faculty, and staff to pose questions, experiment, gather data, monitor changes, and propose novel solutions to a range of sustainability challenges associated with the university’s campus environments and its socio-environmental systems.  Learn more about the Living Labs initiative and the Cherry Blossom Monitoring project during the virtual event launch on April 12, 2023, at 2 p.m.