In the News
To draw people in at a public event, bring cookies! In this case, the event was the North Carolina Arbor Day celebration held at North Carolina State University on March 18. And the cookies were not edible, but crowd pleasers nonetheless. Eastern Threat Center scientists Michael Gavazzi, Qinfeng Guo, Jennifer Moore Myers, and Ge Sun and Southern Research Station (SRS) project leader Jeff Prestemon staffed an exhibit table featuring loblolly pine tree “cookies” to demonstrate how counting tree growth rings can provide an estimate of tree age and insight into growing conditions. The group also shared handouts and other products with local citizens and visitors of all ages interested in SRS research and technology that support the purpose of North Carolina’s Arbor Day observance: to beautify and conserve the state’s trees.
Healthy forests = clean water. It’s a simple idea about forests’ critical role in capturing, filtering, and delivering more than half of the water supply in the United States. But how does one know it’s true? The answer: research from the U.S. Forest Service. Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and their predecessors have been conducting research on the connections among forest watersheds, management practices, and water quantity and quality and communicating their results for more than 75 years. The NC Source Water Collaborative recently honored SRS’s leadership and contributions to a vast body of knowledge with a Source Water Protection Award in the category of Education for “Defining and Understanding How Forests Protect Watersheds and Source Water.” Eastern Threat Center research hydrologist Ge Sun, SRS research hydrologist Pete Caldwell, and SRS project leader Jim Vose accepted the award at a ceremony on March 15 during the Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI) of the University of North Carolina System’s annual conference in Raleigh, NC. Additional scientists honored with the award include Center research ecologist Steve McNulty; SRS research ecologist Kitty Elliott and project leader Chelcy Miniat with Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory; and SRS project leader Dave Wear with the Center for Integrated Forest Science. “The theme of the 2017 WRRI annual conference was ‘solutions through dialogue and cooperation,’” says Sun. “It’s great that North Carolina recognizes SRS contributions to water research and education through close collaboration over the years.”
By 2040, one billion tons or more of biomass could be produced each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2016 Billion-Ton Report. Whole trees or materials left behind after logging operations, agricultural crops and crop residue, algae, and even municipal solid waste are sources of biomass that can be used for fuel, energy, heating, and chemicals. But what are the potential effects on environmental sustainability? Federal, academic, and industry scientists followed up with modeling studies examining impacts on soil, water, air quality, biodiversity, and climate and recently published their results in a Volume 2 report that can inform decision making to improve environmental outcomes around biomass production and uses. Eastern Threat Center research hydrologist Ge Sun, postdoctoral researchers Liangxia Zhang and Kai Duan, and Southern Research Station research ecologist Benjamin Rau contributed a chapter on water yield impacts. The researchers used the Water Supply Stress Index model to estimate the effects of potential forest clearcutting and thinning on seasonal and annual total water yields at the watershed and county scales. “Our study suggests that projected biomass removal levels are rather low and may not cause concerns or large benefits to water quantity and supplies at the county level, but the impacts can be significant if biomass harvesting activities are concentrated within a watershed in a county. In such a case, stormflow volume could increase, potentially causing water quality concerns,” says Sun. “Best management practices such as implementing forest riparian buffers may be effective to mitigate negative harvesting effects on stream hydrology and water quality.” Read Volume 2 of the 2016 Billion-Ton Report and related fact sheets, and stay tuned for more news and learning opportunities.
The "crop coefficient method," widely used in agriculture to estimate how much water crops will need, describes the difference between the actual amount of water lost to the atmosphere and the amount of water that could be lost if there was unlimited water available. Eastern Threat Center scientists and colleagues working together through the U.S.-China Carbon Consortium (USCCC) are among the first to apply it to forests. Results from a recently published study, coauthored by Ge Sun and Steve McNulty, could help land managers deal with prolonged or severe drought conditions or evaluate trade-offs between managing for water supply or carbon storage across seven forest cover types—including broadleaf, evergreen, and mixed forests. “The study offers practical ways for estimating the seasonal dynamics of ecosystem water use and stress,” says Sun. Read more in CompassLive...
Over the past 40 years since the passage of the Clean Air Act, air pollution from automobiles, factories, and power plants has substantially decreased, leading to better human and environmental health. But air pollution and its impacts on people and ecosystems remain a concern amid growing demands for transportation, energy, and manufactured goods. University and U.S. Forest Service researchers believe air pollution could also be a hidden driver of important changes in the nation’s watersheds following a recent study published in the January issue of the journal Climatic Change. Kai Duan, a North Carolina State University postdoctoral researcher working with the Eastern Threat Center and the study’s lead author, worked with a team of researchers to combine a series of models, including a global climate model, a regional climate model, and the Water Supply Stress Index (WaSSI) model. The scientists ran the models with and without accounting for the impacts of air pollution on climate in order to assess the individual and combined impacts of climate change and air pollution on water availability and ecosystem productivity. Study results indicate that, while aerosols in air pollution could partially offset higher temperatures, greenhouse gases will continue to drive higher temperatures and associated increases in ecosystem water use. Read more in CompassLive...
Pictured: Reds, oranges, and yellows show potential decreases in water supplies by the middle of the 21st century based on stable (a. and b.) and rising (c. and d.) atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Maps b. and d. take air pollution into account; maps a. and c. do not. Click to enlarge.
The U.S. Forest Service recently sponsored a two-day workshop in Atlanta, GA, to identify and assess drought adaptation strategies for national forests across the Southeast. In attendance were more than 30 regional experts from the Eastern Threat Center-hosted USDA Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH); the Forest Service Southern Research Station, Southern Region, and Office of Sustainability and Climate Change; and state and federal climate offices who discussed how drought impacts the many benefits derived from forest lands, including species habitat and survival, clean water supply, and recreational activities. Attendees formed working groups to examine management opportunities for improving resilience when coping with drought in the Southeast and to develop a white paper to inform regional and national drought adaptation policies. "This was a well-attended and important workshop, especially when we consider the frequent nature and wide-ranging impacts of droughts across the region and potential for increased drought severity and occurrence in the future," says acting SERCH Coordinator Michael Gavazzi. "The workshop was an important step toward providing land managers with the tools, strategies, and information they’ll need to successfully manage ecosystems for drought adaptation."
Research hydrologist Ge Sun and biological scientist Michael Gavazzi are among the recipients of the 2016 Southern Research Station (SRS) Director's awards. Sun, who has co-authored about 220 papers since his U.S. Forest Service career began in 1997, received the Distinguished Scientist Award "for sustained productivity and leadership in forest hydrology research including the development and application of hydrological models and tools for global natural resource management under a changing environment." Gavazzi, who has served as the Collateral Duty Safety Officer at the Center's Raleigh office for 15 years, received the Safety and Occupational Health Award "in recognition of continued excellence in cultivating a safe and healthful work environment where all employees feel enabled to openly discuss issues and expect timely resolution to their concerns." SRS Director Rob Doudrick will honor Sun, Gavazzi, and recipients of five other awards at a reception in April.
With so many challenges and options to consider, forest managers wondering, “What is the right way to respond to current and future climate change?” may need to reframe the question. “There is no single ‘right’ way to respond to climate change,” explains the narrator in a new U.S. Forest Service Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) education module, “and many different actions will be needed to address the challenges.” The module, “Responses to Climate Change: What You Need to Know,” provides a brief overview of resistance, resilience, and transition—approaches that can help forests adapt to climate change—and ways to incorporate these ideas into natural resource planning and activities. Interactive features allow users to control their learning experience, with plenty of opportunities to explore additional information and examples of managers adapting to climate change in a variety of forests. The main material is followed by a regionally-specific activity: creation of an adaptation plan based on real-world examples. Read more in CompassLive...