Franklin University Switzerland visit: a study in contrasts

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During their October visit to Chamonix during their “Climate Change in the Alps” course, Franklin University Switzerland students got to experience firsthand how quickly conditions can change in mountain environments.

The sun sets over the Chamonix Valley after the first snowfall of the year © Lewis Mundy Shaw

At the end of October, students from Franklin University Switzerland came to Chamonix as part of a biology course on Alpine Ecosystems, taught by Professor Brack Hale.   During their visit, they got to see first-hand how difficult survival in the mountains can be when the weather changed from warm and sunny to cold, windy and snowy, all in the space of 24 hours.

Adapting to changing conditions

When twenty Franklin University Switzerland students arrived in Chamonix on Thursday, October 25, it was a sunny, mild day.  They walked across Chamonix, marveling at the beautiful mountain views and joined the CERA team at the Mont-Blanc Observatory to learn what the week would have in store for them.

The next day, they’d get up early and head to Vallorcine where they’d have a crash course on Phénoclim, our citizen science phenology monitoring program. After that, everything was up in the air.  At the time, it seemed hard to believe the weather forecasts calling for the arrival of a big winter storm, but if it came, it would be hard to keep doing fieldwork studying species hidden under a foot of snow.

Adaptation, it turned out, would be a key skill for the trip.  A warm day of observing color change in larch trees in Vallorcine and Loriaz, punctuated by downtime lounging in the sun and sweeping out coal tit nest boxes allowed everyone to let their guard down.  But sure enough, the winds did change and before long, the skyline disappeared behind a curtain of clouds.

Undeterred by rain and then snow, the Franklin students proved game for shifting plans and maintained enthusiasm for analyzing data indoors, inventorying long-term monitoring plots under stormy skies, and finally slogging through what ended up being several feet of fresh snow to get to the Plan de l’Aiguille hut.  While the weather outside was frightful, they enjoyed hot soup and crunched numbers, helping us in our ongoing analysis of observer bias in citizen science.

Many thanks to Professor Hale and his team of Franklin students, who not only proved adaptable in shifting conditions but also agreed to let us share some of their photos in the slideshow below!

For more information:

Check out our Climate Science in Chamonix page

Visit the Phénoclim home page

And Marjorie Bison’s latest scientific article on the reliability of citizen science data

More about Franklin University Switzerland, and testimonials from Lily Piffernini-Carter and Professor Brack Hale.

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