Henry David Thoreau, Climatologist

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The entrance to Walden Pond. (Herzogbr/Flickr)
The entrance to Walden Pond. (Herzogbr/Flickr)

Lovers of Henry David Thoreau's Walden will know this passage:

"In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line."

For more than 150 years, Thoreau has stood a that meeting of eternities, as Walden has been essential reading for anyone who wants to connect with the literary past. Now, Thoreau the writer, the naturalist, the keen observer, is connecting scientists with the climatological past of the Concord area.

Thoreau kept meticulous journals that documented the bird and plant species he encountered year round. He noted when birds arrived and left Walden Pond, when flowers first bloomed, how the ecology of the woods changed as winter gave way to spring. His notes, and those of naturalists after Thoreau, were so good they've turned into a strong baseline data set for a group of Harvard and Boston University scientists who are using them to compare the Walden environment then to what they observe now.

Their conclusion? Thirty percent of the species Thoreau observed in his time are gone from Concord. Climate change has come to Walden.

We'll take a walk in the woods and explore how Henry David Thoreau, climatologist, is shaping our understanding of global warming at Walden Pond.


  • Charles Davis, Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard

This program aired on May 28, 2010.


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