State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Around the Broadleaf World in 180 Days

I have been very fortunate lately. In the last 6 months I visited forests I have longed dreamed about and visited forests I had never dreamed of before. I have been so fortunate that it is hard to believe. And, it is only going to get better in the next two weeks.

Early in my education I ran across a book on the world’s five main temperate rainforests. It was around the time of the spotted owl and logging of the great old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Besides learning more about the rainforest in the Pacific Northwest, I recall imagining the great Valdivian Forest of Chile, the rainforests in Japan and New Zealand, and the one that stuck out in my mind the most, the rainforest off the Black Sea in Turkey. Yes, Turkey. The Turkey currently taking in refugees from Syria. It was explained there was a strong sea effect from the Black Sea that produces high rainfall amounts. Growing up firmly in Lake Ontario’s lake effect belt, I understood the phenomenon immediately. Having no money at the time, I scraped up what I had and set out for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I mean, it was during the rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and grunge. That combined with massively impressive trees, there was no place else to go.

Luckily, no pictures from that trip have made it to the digital era; my former mullet is still a myth. This recent picture from the redwoods of northern California will have to suffice.

Spying some temperate rainforest in the NoCal. Photo: N. Pederson

Tonight I leave for Turkey. Yes, that Turkey. The Turkey with the temperate rainforest. This temperate rainforest is broadleaf-dominated. I am a lucky dog. Posts on this trip will arrive sometime in the future. In the mean time, here is a very brief overview of the broadleaf forests I have visited in the last 180 days.

I was invited to give a talk in northeastern China in early October to discuss some of my work. My host and former visitor to our lab, Zhen-ju Chen, of the Institute of Applied Ecology in Shenyang, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was beginning research in the broadleaf forests of northeastern China and wanted me to visit these forests. How lucky is that? I had known that the forests of northeastern China were like the forests of the northeastern U.S. I would now get to see firsthand how similar these forests were to one another.

First, I got to visit the forests in the Changbai Shan national nature preserve. The upper forests were primarily stunted birch. This patch of wild, scraggily birch was my favorite in the upper part of the preserve.

Betula ermanii forest on Changbai Shan. Photo: N. Pederson

My favorite forest in Changbai had to be the Dell Forest. Its mix of larch, maple, birch, spruce, ash, etc., strongly recalled the forests of the northeastern U.S. Just as important, the trees looked 300 years or more. It was a delight.

Dell Forest at Changbai. Photo: N. Pederson

Mixed broadleaf-conifer forest in Changbai Shan preserve. The orange fruit in the upper left are from the Chinese mountain ash. Photo: N. Pederson

But, speaking of fortunate, I got to see the crater lake that borders North Korea on top of Changbai Shan. It is a rare day when one gets this view:

Changbai Shan's crater lake. Photo: N. Pederson

After Changbai, we moved on to lower elevations and visited the Changbai Shan Museum Institute permanent plot. Like the Harvard Forest, this is a heavily-instrumented experimental forest. And, most stunning to me, with a forest composed of basswood, Korean pine, Mongolian oak, birch, it looked like the Harvard Forest.

The forest interior of the Changbai Mountain Institute experimental forest. Photo: N. Pederson

Seedlings of the Korean pine could almost fool the experts of eastern North America’s eastern white pine.

Korean pine or eastern white pine? Photo: N. Pederson

My final stop in northeastern China was the Qing Yuan Experimental Secondary Forest. This forest was further south and a bit lower in elevation. Its species mix – maple, oak, birch, elm, etc, however, could have been almost anywhere in southern New England. The Japanese maple would be a good clue that you weren’t in North America. There were other clues, too. But, the similarities to northeastern North America were striking.

Qing Yuan Experimental Forest landscape. Photo: N. Pederson

Perhaps only the Asian architecture and pond of brightly colored carp hint to the continent you are on?

The pond in front of the forest administrator's quarters. Photo: N. Pederson

While there is much tree ring activity happening in China, not a tree was cored in the making of this trip. Sadly, I had to leave and was left to wonder how old and what stories the broadleaf-dominated forests contained.

Luckily, I immediately flew from Shenyang to Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon (and temperate broadleaf forests!).

Under the direction of our lab director, Dr. Ed Cook, and long-time technician/MacGyver, Paul Krusic (now of the Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research), the Lamont Tree Ring Laboratory has had a strong and productive collaboration with various institutions in Bhutan. Our trip in October 2011 re-invigorated this collaboration and centered around a fieldweek, a climate conference, high altitude lake research, and an investigation into the broadleaf forests of western Bhutan.

Cook and Krusic have done a fabulous job finding old trees in high elevation forests and drought-sensitive sites to assist in reconstructing the Asian Monsoon. Yet, few studies have been conducted in Bhutan’s broadleaf forest, which comprises more than half of its forested area. My short time there was an exploratory visit to determine the feasibility of conducting tree ring research in the many large old-growth forests in western Bhutan.

I will leave the details of this trip for another post. In the mean time, I will close with a pictorial highlight of some of the forests and trees visited in Bhutan. Wish us luck in Turkey. The cold winter in eastern Europe was felt in Turkey. The normal high winter precipitation in northeastern Turkey and colder temperatures have led to the possibility of limited fieldwork: There might be too much snow in mid-April at 41 degrees north latitude.

A large Quercus semecaprifolia at Dochhula, Bhutan (it might be really old, too!). Photo: N. Pederson

A plot in the Darla Experimental Forest, Bhutan. Photo: N. Pederson

The view over the broadleaf forests of southern Bhutan into India. Photo: N. Pederson

The temperate forest zone, consisting of maple, ash, and hemlock, at Jigme Dorji National Park, Bhutan. Photo: N. Pederson

Kuenzang and Chencho coring an ancient Quercus griffithii in a woodland that has been sustainably pollarded or lopped for the last 250 years near Paro, Bhutan. A Columbia University undergrad is studying the tree rings of these trees. Photo: N. Pederson

Lest I forget: one of the world’s coolest broadleaf forests is in Lamont’s backyard. The scenes below might look like Appalachia, but they are not. They are ~20 mi as the bald eagle flies from Manhattan.

Blauvelt State Park, NY. Photo: N. Pederson

Blauvelt State Park, NY. Photo: N. Pederson
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