Members of the Champlain Society, the group of 1880s-era college students who studied the natural history of Mount Desert Island. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDI HISTORICAL SOCIETY

MDI climate change project launched

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — new project aimed at understanding more about the effects of climate change on Mount Desert Island – and what can be done about it – is being launched this month by the MDI Historical Society in partnership with the Schoodic Institute, Acadia National Park, A Climate to Thrive, MDI Biological Laboratory and College of the Atlantic. 

The project is called Landscape of Change. 

It is based on the idea that much can be learned by comparing observations of the natural world going back more than two centuries with today’s environmental factors. 

Underpinning the project is the historical society’s collection of logbooks kept by Harvard students who came to MDI every summer between 1800 and 1890 and documented their observations of birds, pollinators, plants, water and weather. They called themselves the Champlain Society. 

“They wrote reports on their findings, inspiring subsequent conservation efforts that led to the formation of Acadia National Park,” said Raney Bench, executive director of the historical society. 

All the things that those kids were seeing when they were here have changed due to development or increases in air temperature, in water temperature and sea level rises, changes in acidification. We have lost maybe 30 percent of the plant species they saw here in the 1880s, which is a really huge decline. 

The first three years of the Champlain Society’s logbooks are presented in the 2021 edition of the historical society’s publication called Chebacco, which will come out April 19. 

“I don’t think anyone can argue that climate change is not one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Bench said. “And historic documents are really necessary to understand what that change looks like and how quickly it’s taking place. Without that information, you can’t make plans for the future.” 

She said scientists with the Landscape of Change partners can use the data in the Champlain Society’s logbooks to further their own studies. 

“By doing the data analysis of all these historic records and how they relate to what we’re seeing on the landscape here on the island today…we can have a better understanding of how the island is being impacted,” Bench said. 

But the project is not just for professional scientistsPrimary goals, Bench said, are public education and engagement. 

“We’re hoping people will come away with a better idea of what to do [about climate change] and how to participate…so that this is not just information you have to let lay heavy on your heart.” 

To that end, Bench said, the historical society will host a series of public programs throughout the summer with Schoodic Institute, Acadia and A Climate to Thrive so that people can develop new observations and record new data, which will then be analyzed at the end of the year.” 

Citizen scientists will be trained to collect the data by scientists at Acadia and the Schoodic Institute. 

Each of the historical society’s partners is also planning its own public programs inspired by the Landscape of Change project. 

The community engagement piece of this project will be an opportunity for people to learn more about the really unique spaces on this island and how fragile they are, Bench said. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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