Forest ThreatNet

Volume 2, Issue 2 - Fall 2009

From China to Carolina...and Back

EFETAC hydrologist's research goes global

By Stephanie Worley Firley, EFETAC


Ge Sun visits the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve in southwestern China during a hydrologic research trip in 2006. The streamwater is derived from a glacier on the Tibetan Plateau.Timing is everything...and so it was for EFETAC's Southern Global Change Program (SGCP) research hydrologist Ge Sun when he was admitted to Beijing Forestry University in 1981 at age 16.

"China had just started its ‘open door’ policy and resumed its higher education system after 10 years of Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, only five percent of kids had the fortune to get to college through a very rigorous national exam system," explains Sun, who was born in a small rural village about 100 miles east of Beijing City.

"I did not have many choices back then, but I developed an interest in forest hydrology during my senior year and decided to pursue a master’s degree," says Sun. "My graduate studies took place in a remote mountainous area in southern China where I read some of the interesting literature produced by the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab of the Southern Research Station."

In 1995, Sun received his PhD in forest hydrology from the University of Florida. Shortly thereafter, he presented a paper at a conference in Athens, GA, where SGCP team leader Steve McNulty was in attendance. "As fate would have it, I gave a presentation just before Ge. When I heard his presentation, I was so impressed with his work that I recruited him to join the SGCP," recalls McNulty. Says Sun, "It has been a dream come true to work for the U.S. Forest Service."

As a research hydrologist, Sun leads numerous projects centered on the interactions between climate change and forest water resources. "For example, my team is developing a simulation system to estimate water balances across 2,100 basins in the lower 48 United States. This system can be used to project human water supply stress by considering future climate change, population growth, and landcover change along with water demand for a variety of purposes," says Sun. "We are also synthesizing carbon flux data around the world so we can link water balance to ecosystem productivity and biodiversity. Eventually, we will be able to evaluate the tradeoffs among all ecosystem services under multiple climate change and management conditions."

Sun’s work with SGCP is internationally significant. He has collaborated with Chinese scientists for over a decade through more than 30 organized exchange opportunities, including the U.S.-China Carbon Consortium (USCCC). Established in 2004, USCCC members contribute global comparisons and promote understanding of the combined effects of climate change and land management on carbon sequestration and water resources. "This collaboration is very important because China is increasingly becoming a major economic power and carbon dioxide emitter. Yet we know very little about the ability of China’s ecosystems to sequester carbon dioxide. This collaboration has produced many publications and has greatly increased our understanding of China’s carbon sequestration potential," says Sun. "Solving global issues like climate change requires global participation, and China must be part of these efforts. Many of the lessons learned in the southern United States or China, such as deforestation-water relations, are of mutual benefit for both countries."

As for his future research plans, Sun says, "Climate change will be the largest environmental issue of our, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s lifetime. Since climate change is hydrologic change, I’ll continue to study how climate change affects water yield and quality and develop models for managing the forests we all depend on for our water supplies."

The timing couldn’t be better.

Above: Ge Sun visits the Wolong Giant Panda Reserve in southwestern China during a hydrologic research trip in 2006. The streamwater is derived from a glacier on the Tibetan Plateau.

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