Nature and Technology are BFFs

May, 2013

By Paul Lamoureux, Vice President Programs

Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, along with numerous university and research partners, has been installing and testing remote sensing technology that captures data, audio and video of the island’s flora, fauna, weather and geology. One of the desired outcomes for these resources is to enable Boston Public School teachers to extend their students’ island expedition back into the classroom with technology, data and lesson plans that build upon and complement the on-island experiential learning experience.

One of these technology partnerships also ties directly into measuring the effects of sea level rise, a hot topic in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park and in the scientific community as a whole.

To focus on this important issue and to highlight one of Thompson Island’s primary technology project partnerships, I’ve invited Communications Manager, Jaclyn Parks to be our Guest Blogger this month.

Nature & Technology are BFFs
by Jaclyn Parks, Communications Manager

Technology is usually thought to be the culprit for keeping children inside. However, on Thompson Island technology and nature are working together to get children outdoors and interested in science. A partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMASS Boston), Boston University and Northeastern University has helped us strengthen this synergy by collaborating on a remote camera-based erosion study.

Most of us are aware of the growing concerns about global climate change, the expected rise in sea levels that could occur during the remainder of this century and increasing rates of erosion. Since 1920 Boston’s sea level has risen approximately 10 inches, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). NOAA predicts Boston’s sea level will continue to rise as much as 6 feet by the end of this century. For more information about Boston’s sea level trends and projections visit the City of Boston’s climate webpage.

Remote camera technology used by the erosion study partnership on the north end of Thompson Island

UMASS Boston recently approached Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center to participate in a study to evaluate the use of low-power, low-cost networked smart cameras to study and manage coastal flooding. Thompson Island was chosen due to its close proximity to Boston and geologically dynamic shorelines. The Boston Harbor Islands are a unique geological formation called drumlins that formed from the recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago.

The UMASS Boston/BU/Northeastern partnership has placed these smart cameras in areas of known erosion and beach movement to help clarify what exactly is causing rapid erosion and which weather types affect tide movements the most.

Beach movement, as deposition, on the east side of Thompson Island?

Thompson Island instructors are leveraging this study by incorporating components into our geology curricula. Students will use camera footage to learn about erosion, climate change, tidal movements, deposition and much more.

According to Alex Chu, program director for curriculum programs, “We will be using this scientific data to develop lesson plans that provide classroom-based access to island data and video that complement field-based science expeditions. Remote access to data will enable Thompson Island to expand our capabilities to deliver technology-based aspects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curricula to schools. It also allows us to begin to deliver integrated scientific/technology field and research work that connects to next generation science standards, while offering students a realistic taste of how a future career in science might appeal to them.”

To view live footage from these erosion cameras visit

We suggest you read the following abstracts if you’re interested in learning more about Boston’s coastal history, erosion and rising sea levels!

Effects of Rising Sea Level on the Boston Harbor by Duncan FitzGerald Boston University Department of Earth Sciences and Peter Rosen, Northeastern University Department of Geology

Drowned Drumlins, Battered Bluff, and Salt Marsh Sediments – Boston Harbor Through Time by Peter Rosen, Northeastern University Department of Earth and Environmental Science and Carol Wilson, Boston Universitiy Coastal Geomorphology

Mapping and Modeling Sea Level Rise by Ellen Douglas, University of Massachusetts Boston Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences

Effects of Natural and Anthropogenic Forces on the Geophysical Processes in Boston Harbor by Dr. Zoe Hughes, Boston University Department of Earth Sciences

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