Students monitor climate change with support from HEROES

Himalayan Environmental Rhythms Observation and Evaluation System (HEROES) project, implemented by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) is the first nationwide school-based initiative to monitor climate change and its impact on the mountain ecosystem in Bhutan.

Almost six years into the project after its first establishment in 2014, HEROES has successfully involved 21 schools from different ecological zones and geographic regions of the country.

“Throughout the academic session, some 400 students are busy observing and recording seasonal lifecycles of plants in the backyards of their respective schools. HEROES is a citizen science initiative, where a platform for the abstract concept of climate change is decoded into comprehensible ideas and understanding in a manner students can relate to through direct experience from the field,” said Chenga Tshering, Deputy Chief Forest Officer with the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research.

Chenga Tshering said the main objective of the project is to make the subject of climate change as unsophisticated and its impact on the biodiversity as realistic as it is today to the younger minds and then come up with appropriate adaptation strategies.

“Educating youth on climate change and its impact is one of the greatest benefits of this initiative as climate-literate youths have immense potential to become an influential climate change activist.”

The latest record showed, the project has so far trained more than 1500 students, 110 environment teachers trained on phenology monitoring protocol, 57 people sent for short-term training outside the country, and there are a total of 21 focal teachers and schools involved till date.

Phenology is a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomenon of plants and animals.

Other key highlights include record submission of 0.13 mn phenology, 103 plants observed by the students every year, 21 weather stations in the schools log weather data every ten minutes, ten months of phenology observation carried out every year and an optional three levels of Environmental Studies introduced for classes 10 to 12.

The Deputy Chief Forest Officer said that through such initiatives, students get hands-on experience and knowledge on the realities surrounding climate change which further motivates them to do there bits in their area and discover more.

“Their sense of contribution to the national climate database makes their learning even more worthwhile. It is quite an achievement when their observation data reveals a new insight. What could be more exciting than finding out for the first time that a peach plant they were observing flowers twice a year, and anticipating that if the climate warms further, it could even yield two fruiting events a year? It might sound a wild guess, but not impossible,” said Chenga Dorji.

He said that some of the students questioned if such unusual changes in the fruiting pattern of the plants can be attributed to climate change, to which the team’s response was negative. “In the field of climate change study, a conclusion can’t be drawn based on few years’ data,” he said.

“Another student asked if the data they have collected over the years will be valid for centuries to come and our response was affirmative, given that in the field of phenology science, every observation recorded is timeless and invaluable.

Who could have anticipated that the 9th-century cherry flowering record in someone else’s personal diary will have immense value in reconstructing the spring temperature in the 20th century,” said Chenga Tshering.

The reference was based on the reconstruction of the changes in springtime temperature since the 9th-century using phenological data series for cherry tree flowering gathered from old diaries and chronicles in Kyoto, Japan.

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