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Responses of Northern U.S. Forests to Environmental Change
ISBN 0-387-98900-5

Preface: R. A. Mickler, R. A. Birdsey, & John Hom.

In the Global Change Research Act of 1990, global change is defined as changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life . For the purposes of this book, we interpret the definition of global change broadly to include physical and chemical environmental changes that are likely to affect the productivity and health of forest ecosystems over the long term. Important environmental changes in the Northern United States include steadily increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, tropospheric ozone, wet and dry deposition of nitrogen and sulfur compounds, acidic precipitation and clouds, and climate variability. These environmental factors interact in complex ways to affect plant physiological functions and soil processes in the context of forest landscapes derived from centuries of intensive land use and natural disturbances.

In this book we report progress in understanding how multiple interacting stresses are affecting or are likely to affect forest ecosystems at multiple spatial and temporal scales. While there has been much progress under the sponsorship of the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), we are only beginning to understand how our forest ecosystems are likely to evolve over the next century. Global change research in the Northern United States is built on a solid foundation of long-term ecological research and a decade of air pollution studies sponsored by the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program. The USGCRP introduced a heightened awareness of the potential of climate change and climate variability to affect ecosystems, which can only be understood in the context of widespread chemical stresses. Now that the USGCRP is nearing the end of its first decade, it is timely to assemble the available knowledge as a basis for targeting future global change research, and for transferring information to land managers and policy makers through syntheses such as this book, and through participatory assessments.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Global Change Research Program (FSGCRP) has been a key player in global change research in the Northeast and North Central States. Through full or partial sponsorship of more than 100 research projects in the region, the FSGCRP established linkages with most of the regional networks and teams of scientists studying global change issues. Vigorous partnerships among scientists sponsored by various funding institutions foster the interdisciplinary research approaches that are essential for understanding the complex impacts of environmental change. The U.S. Forest Service has a unique role as a land management agency working with both public and private landowners throughout the region's forested lands. Thus our research has been regionally dispersed to teams that address specific issues at temporal and spatial scales that are relevant to land managers. Parallel efforts are aimed at aggregating our understanding to landscape and larger domains so that both land managers and policy makers are aware of both the local and global effects of environmental change, whether positive or negative, in the Northeastern and North Central United States.

Next : Chapter 1