Observing and Understanding the Impacts of Climate on Alaskan Forests

Jun 2016 to Oct 2018

Changing climate conditions (e.g. changes to air temperature, surface temperature, snowpack duration, and soil temperature) are affecting where trees are able to successfully grow and are bringing changes to the structure of forests throughout many parts of Alaska. In order to understand and project future vegetation changes, scientists use computer models to establish the relationships between climate variables, such as those mentioned above, and ecological responses such as the presence or absence of a tree species, tree growth and establishment, changes in sap flow, and other demographic and physiological responses.
These computer models, however, frequently do not account for Alaska‚Äôs extreme topography and climatic gradients, and have often not been verified with direct observations due to availability of only a sparse observational network.  Direct observations of tree responses to climate change are currently only available at a handful of sites such as at Caribou / Poker Creek and the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research facility.
This project aims to provide observations of climate and tree responses in order to better establish the direct effects of climate on ecological processes. The project team has established a network of forest and treeline observation sites in the wet, comparatively warm southeast Alaska perhumid rain forest, the transitional boreal forest in south central Alaska, and at the limits of tree distribution in the boreal forest and northwestern Alaska. The project will also contribute to the use of inexpensive temperature sensors in high-latitude environments and to synthesis assessments for the modeling of species distribution.