Panoramic view of Goldsmith working in the cloud forest canopy
From afar, the primeval mountainsides of the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica appear both majestic and mysterious. Venture within and you will discover that this mist-enshrouded tropical evergreen forest is teeming with life. This astounding biodiversity owes much of its existence to the extra water bestowed by clouds, which condenses onto leaves and drips to the forest floor. This extra moisture supports the world’s most diverse collection of orchid species and a thriving array of amphibians, reptiles, and birds. But National Geographic Young Explorer Greg Goldsmith knows that the existence of these animals could be – quite literally – as ephemeral as a cloud.
Mantled Howler Monkeys, Alouatta palliata
Deforestation and global warming are blowing the forest’s moisture-giving clouds to higher elevations, causing dangerous drying in the ecosystem. How bad will it get? To find out, Goldsmith spent some time hanging out in the canopy, trying to determine exactly how much water these trees derive from cloud cover. This knowledge can be used by conservation-minded scientists to understand the nature and magnitude of the problem – and identify potential solutions.
Panoramic view of the elfin forest
Another National Geographic Young Explorer, photographer Drew Fulton, joined Goldsmith in the field. His goal was to capture cloud forest biodiversity in photographs and on film. Fulton’s broader mission, however, was educational: to inspire a future generation of scientists by providing a rare, authentic window into the exciting, often challenging process of scientific inquiry. Working with videographer Colin Witherill, he created an interactive website that features surreal 360 degree spherical panoramas embedded with educational videos. Users can explore the cloud forest from both the ground and the canopy, absorbing facts about its ecology as well as the fine art of scientific field research along the way.
Frog, Craugastor crassidigitus
The creation of these striking photographs was a painstaking process: “The constant presence of falling water, whether from rain or dripping foliage, proved to be nightmarish while taking images pointing upwards, a necessity for creating these images,” explained Fulton. In the canopy “weather conditions mostly cooperated, with the exception of persistent high winds that tested our nerves as we swayed uncontrollably well above the ground.” Want to immerse yourself in the cloud forest without getting wet? Join these Young Explorers online at Canopy in the Clouds.
Photographs by Drew Fulton