US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Chris Swanston

Chris Swanston

Project Leader
410 MacInnes Drive
United States

Phone: 906-482-6303 x1320
Contact Chris Swanston

Current Research

I pursue two main science thrusts: (1) climate change adaptation; and (2) ecosystem carbon cycling. Each thrust integrates information, lessons, and perspectives from the other. The climate change thrust includes collaborative research and service as Director of the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub. I lead NIACS and Hub staff in the development of vulnerability assessments, adaptation strategy and planning documents, and other climate and carbon science delivery in support of natural resource planning, management, and decision making. The carbon cycle thrust encompasses basic research on soil carbon from multiple ecosystems using a variety of tools and methods, creating information about soil carbon movement and stabilization, and conversely, vulnerability to loss by landuse and climate change. I also study strategies for carbon stewardship in forests, which considers effects of forest managment on forest carbon stocks and cycling.

Major NIACS and Hubs efforts include the

  • Climate Change Response Framework, an integrated set of tools, partnerships, and actions to support climate-informed conservation and forest management. The Framework is deployed in more than 20 states and includes more than 150 partner organizations.
  • Climate Change Resource Center, a web-based platform providing relevant, credible information about climate change and adaptation to forest managers. NIACS helps manage the site in close collaboration with all five USFS Research Stations and Forest Service Research and Development.
  • Adaptation Workbook, a web-based planning tool that helps land managers create climate-informed management plans.


Research Interests

I intend to continue studying approaches to climate adaptation and carbon stewardship in forests in partnership with numerous organizations from across the forest sector.

Why This Research is Important

Climate is changing and is likely to have increasing impacts on many forests as continues to change. Land managers need specific information, strategies, and tools to address increased societal emphasis on carbon management and the unique challenges of managing forests given uncertainty about the range of future climate and ensuing ecosystem responses. There is thus a clear and pressing need to bridge the gaps between broad-scale climate predictions, academic discussions of ecosystem responses, and actual management activities in forests. My work with NIACS and the Hub helps bridge those gaps. My work with carbon stewardship - soil carbon in particular, also addresses this need. Soil carbon is a fundamental component of forest productivity and structure, strongly influencing soil fertility, resistance to erosion and compaction, and water storage and availability. Soil carbon also plays a large role in global fluxes of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Globally, there is at least twice as much carbon in the soil as in the atmosphere, and two thirds of forest carbon is in the soil. Understanding the forms and fate of forest soil carbon can help us predict, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of disturbance at wide spatial and temporal scales. Understanding and applying approaches to carbon stewardship more broadly can help us mitigate greehouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change.


  • Oregon State University, Ph.D. Forest Science 2000
  • Oregon State University, M.S. Forest Science 1996
  • Humboldt State University, B.S. Forest Ecology and Soils (NRPI) 1993

Professional Experience

  • Director, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Research
    2008 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University
    2007 - Current
  • Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station
    2007 - Current
  • Environmental Scientist, Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
    2005 - 2007
  • Post-doctoral Scientist, Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
    2002 - 2005
  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Unité Biogéochimie des Ecosystèmes Forestiers, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France
    2000 - 2002

Professional Organizations

  • North American Carbon Program, Member (2010 - Current)
  • International Soil Carbon Network, Member (2009 - Current)
    Past Chair of SSG
  • Ecosystem Science Center, Member (2007 - Current)
  • American Geophysical Union, Member (2002 - Current)
  • Soil Science Society of America, Member (1993 - Current)

Awards & Recognition

  • Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award, 2018
    Awarded by the American Society of Adaptation Professionals for excellence in adaptation leadership.
  • Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources (federal agency), 2016
    National Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Climate Adaptation Strategy’s Joint Implementation Working Group; outstanding leadership to advance the resilience of the Nation’s living natural resources in a changing climate; awarded NIACS
  • Minnesota Climate Change Adaptation Award, 2014
    Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership; leadership in climate adaptation by an institution, awarded to the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
  • USFS Chief’s Honor Award, Excellence in Science and Technology, 2013
    developing and delivering scientific principles, partnerships, and actions for adaptation to climate change in national forests; awarded to lead climate change scientists – Linda Joyce, Constance Millar, David Peterson, and Christopher Swanston
  • NRS Director’s Excellence in Science and Technology Award, 2013
    The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) is recognized for its outstanding value in providing service to the forestry community by creating an array of information resources, providing direct outreach, and developing adaptation tools.

Featured Publications & Products


Citations of non US Forest Service Publications

    • Fröberg, M.; Jardine, P.M.; Hanson, P.J.; Swanston, C.W.; Todd, D.E.; Tarver, J.R.; Garten Jr., C.T. 2007. Low dissolved organic carbon input from fresh litter to deep mineral soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 71(2):347-354.
    • Krull, E.S.; Swanston, C.W.; Skjemstad, J.O.; McGowan, J.A. 2006. The importance of charcoal in determining the age and chemistry of organic carbon in surface soils. Journal of Geophysical Research - Biogeochemistry. 111(G04001):doi:10.1029/2006JG000194.
    • Sollins, P.; Swanston, C.; Kleber, M.; Filley, T.; Kramer, M.; Crow, S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Lajtha, K.; Bowden, R. 2006. Organic C and N stabilization in a forest soil: Evidence from sequential density fractionation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 38(11):3313-3324.
    • Hanson, P.J.; Swanston, C.W.; Garten Jr., C.T.; Todd, D.E.; Trumbore, S.E. 2005. Reconciling change in Oi-horizon carbon-14 with mass loss for an oak forest. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 69(5):1492-1502.
    • Swanston, C.W.; Torn, M.S.; Hanson, P.J.; Southon, J.R.; Garten, C.T.; Hanlon, E.M.; Ganio, L. 2005. Initial characterization of processes of soil carbon stabilization using forest stand-level radiocarbon enrichment. Geoderma. 128(1-2):52-62.
    • Swanston, C.; Homann, P.S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Myrold, D.D.; Ganio, L.; Sollins, P. 2004. Long-term effects of elevated nitrogen on forest soil organic matter stability. Biogeochemistry. 70(2):229-252.
    • Swanston, C.W.; Caldwell, B.A.; Homann, P.S.; Ganio, L.; Sollins, P. 2002. Carbon dynamics during a long-term incubation of separate and recombined density fractions from seven forest soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 34(8):1121-1130.
    • Homann, P.S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Chappell, H.N.; Sollins, P.; Swanston, C.W. 2001. Douglas-fir soil C and N properties a decade after termination of urea fertilization. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 31(12):2225-2236.
    • Sollins, P.; Glassman, C.A.; Paul, E.A.; Swanston, C.; Lajtha, K.; Heil, J.W.; Elliott, E.T. 1999. Soil Carbon and Nitrogen: Pools and Fractions. In: G. P. Robertson, C. S. Bledsoe, D. C. Coleman and P. Sollins, eds. Standard Soil Methods for Long-Term Ecological Research. New York: Oxford University Press. 89-105.
    • Swanston, C.W.; Myrold, D.D. 1998. Evaluation of the stem injection technique and subsequent 15N partitioning in red alder crowns. Plant and Soil. 198(1):63-69.
    • Swanston, C.W.; Myrold, D.D. 1997. Incorporation of nitrogen from decomposing red alder leaves into plants and soil of a recent clearcut in Oregon. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 27(9):1496-1502.

Research Highlights


Adaptation Demonstrations Provide Real World Examples of Climate Change Response

Climate change will have long-term effects on forest ecosystems, and the services they provide. High-quality scientific information is critical, ...


Adapting urban forests to a changing climate

A framework for urban forest vulnerability assessment and adaptation, piloted with partners in the Chicago region, is informing master planning ...


Another Benefit of Reforestation: Soil Carbon Sequestration

The rate of carbon sequestration in forests is projected to decline in the decades ahead, largely because more forest land will be developed and ...


Assessing the Vulnerability of Northern Wisconsin's Forests to Climate Change

A team of scientists and managers from the Forest Service and other organizations assessed the vulnerability of northern Wisconsin forests to cl ...


Climate Change Resource Center Website Now Includes Science Information from Northern and Southern Research Stations

The Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) website, which has provided practical, science-based information on managing ecosystems under climate ...


Climate Change Response Framework Project in Northern Wisconsin Models Strategies for Preparing for Global Climate Change Effects

The Northern Research Station' Northern Institute of Applied Carbon Science and its cooperators---the Eastern Region, the Chequamegon-Nicolet Na ...


Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu

USDA Forest Service researchers helped to create a new resource that incorporates indigenous perspectives and traditional ecological knowledge i ...


Radiocarbon sheds light on climate change and carbon cycle

The Forest Service provides nationwide support for carbon and climate research through the Radiocarbon Collaborative, which has supported a wide ...


Resources Help Land Managers Adapt to a Changing Climate

An adaptation planning tool developed by the Forest Service and its partners has helped generate more than 185 examples of climate change adapta ...


Scientists Collaborate to Deliver Best Science on Climate Change and Forests

It's a challenge to bring partners together, but the Forest Service led more than 130 scientists and natural resource managers in the creation o ...


Scientists and Managers Work To Develop Climate-Smart Conservation Strategies

Project that addresses the needs of land managers in a changing climate has expanded to nine States and more than 133 million acres


Urban Forestry Climate Change Response Framework Pilot Launched

Forest Service scientists are working to incorporate climate change considerations into urban forest management in the Chicago area. Recently, t ...


Last updated on : 01/12/2022