Partner Profile: Mapping Change - Monitoring Forest Dynamics
It is a chilly morning. Bettina Uhlig, a researcher from Germany working for the National Park Service, pushes her way uphill through a tangle of trees, climbing on her hands and knees toward the blue sky glinting at the top of the ridge. When she arrives, she drops her bags, turns on her Geographical Positioning System (GPS), and breathes in the rich scent of forest growth and decay.
Why are we here? To answer, we need to go back 188 years. North Carolina became a state in 1789 and Tennessee in 1796, yet the boundary between the two was not decisively mapped until 1821, when William Davenport walked a line along the highest ridgetops in the Great Smoky Mountains. To mark his way, Davenport noted the species of “witness tree” at each milemarker and waypoint.
NPS map image.
Scientists conducting Inventory and Monitoring studies at the park knew that the written record of his route could lead to new research. They saw potential for a long-term monitoring study: Davenport had not only marked a state boundary, he had formed a 65-mile-long ecological transect (a line along which scientists take observations and samples) and documented the vegetation types existing in 1821 at regular intervals.
Bettina, who received her PhD in Geography comparing Chilean and Californian forests, came to the Great Smoky Mountains to work with scientists in the Inventory and Monitoring program. Before she left, she began a project to monitor the points along Davenport’s transect and compare the vegetation in 2008 to the vegetation in 1821. By doing so she hoped to record:
Being able to compare—essentially to have a very long-term monitoring transect—is exciting because the park’s landscape has changed so much with logging and settlement, and will continue to change with climate shifts, air pollution, blights, and pests that have and are killing vast numbers of trees.
Or, return to Dispatches from the Field: Issue 1 main page.
Did You Know?
The wispy, smoke-like fog that hangs over the Smoky Mountains comes from rain and evaporation from trees. On the high peaks of the Smokies, an average of 85 inches of rain falls each year, qualifying these upper elevation areas as temperate rain forests.