LETS Study Leysin

LETS plots are distributed from 600m in the valley (near Aigle) to 2,300m on Tour d’Ai. Leysin’s altitude starts at about 1,200m and continues to 1,400m. In the background is 3,000m Diablerets peak. Click the photo to view the plot locations on interactive maps.

Leysin is perfect for climate-ecology research:

The environment around most schools is relatively limited: the trees you see out the window are the trees you’ll find in the field, with little variation due climate. Local investigators can collect data from what’s essentially a single point on the global climate scale. At LAS, we look out the window at a whole range of climate conditions, from the valley’s vineyards at 500m to ice-capped peaks above 4000m.

Because changes in altitude create changes in climate, the hillsides below and above Leysin offer us a wide range of conditions, along with a variety of plants and animals to match those conditions. Altitude also simulates latitude–in other words, due to temperature changes, moving uphill is much like moving northward. Altitude even accelerates climate change over time. Not only can we witness tomorrow’s conditions today as thermoclines advance uphill, but temperatures are changing much more rapidly in the mountains than they are globally, especially in Switzerland, which is far from the buffering effects of a nearby ocean.

What LAS students are doing:

Measuring tree circumference in biology class.

Measuring tree circumference in biology class.

By monitoring the plants (and later, animals) in LETS plots up and down the mountainside, student-scientists discover patterns that explain the influence of altitude and climate on species distribution and character. As the study becomes an LAS tradition, these observations will span years and then decades, providing future student-scientists with the data to explore local changes in climate and how this influences local ecology.

At LAS we’ve set aside two “LETS Days” annually, where large numbers of students visit all the plots at once. Groups of approximately 10 students and one or two teachers visit a plot, dividing the research between them. In October, all the 8th, 9th, and 10th graders (approximately 150 students) enter the field with notebooks and tape measures in hand. In May, it’s the turn of 11th grade IB students as they fulfill their Group 4 Project requirements, which include working together in cross-disciplinary teams. About 120 “juniors” visit the plots that aren’t buried in snow (spring snow level varies year to year). LAS’s new Middle School program (grades 7 and 8) is also learning the skills to help carry out LETS’s citizen science research.

Each forest plot is 30m x 30m. During LETS days we use strings to subdivide them into 10m x 10m grids using 30m strings. Inside these grids we survey the tree species, tree circumference, tree locations, phenology, baby trees, and nearby meadow plants.

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