Dec 4, 2013
Tyson designated an Earth Observatory
Forest plot named long-term monitoring site in the Smithsonian Institution’s global forest network.
By Diana Lutz
A 60-acre (25-hectare) plot in Washington University in St. Louis’ Tyson Research Center has been named a Forest Global Earth Observatory, or ForestGEO. The oak-hickory forest in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks joins a network of 51 long-term forest study sites in 23 countries, including eight others in the United States. Together, the forests, containing roughly 8,500 species and 4.5 million individual trees, comprise the largest, systematically studied network of forest-ecology plots in the world.
Why study trees? If the climate changes, people can pick up stakes and move, irrigate the land or spend more time in air-conditioned buildings, said Jonathan A. Myers, PhD, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences. But trees, once they have rooted, do not have these options. These giant, long-lived organisms remain exposed to the elements, year in and year out, and are therefore sensitive barometers for the effects of climate change on the biosphere.
Forest plots in the American Midwest, which has been swept by drought, may also hold the answer to a critically important question about forests. Forests have long been one of the largest terrestrial carbon stores, sequestering megatons of the element in their tissues.
If drought-driven tree die-offs become more frequent will forests become carbon sources rather than sinks? The answer, which depends on complex processes operating over long time spans, is not obvious and yet it is critical for understanding future climate.
“The Tyson plot is a rich regional resource for forest research and environmental education,” said Kim Medley, associate director of the Tyson Research Center. “Its inclusion in an international network greatly expands its impact, providing an opportunity to contribute signifcantly towards understanding global-scale phenomena such as climate change.”
Read entire article at The Source.