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Science Spotlights

Annual PM2.5 emitted averaged over 2003-2015
Wildfires are a major source of fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) in the United States and can have substantial impacts on public health. In addition to acute pollution episodes, wildfires can have a marginal effect on air quality at significant distances from the source, presenting significant challenges to air regulators’ efforts to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Improved emission estimates are needed to quantify the...
View of the National Forest climate change maps website.
The National Forest Climate Change Maps project was developed to meet the need of National Forest managers for information on projected climate changes at a scale relevant to decision making processes, including Forest Plans. The maps use state-of-the-art science and are available for every National Forest in the contiguous United States with relevant data coverage. Currently, the map sets include variables related to precipitation, air...
Winter snowpack on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah. Photo by USDA Forest Service.
Understanding snowpack variability is an important goal of water management, in particular, in the arid west where snow represents a major water storage feature. Snowpack observations in the Intermountain West are sparse and short, making them difficult for use in depicting past variability and extremes.
Spatial patterns in self- calibrating Palmer Drought Severity Index (scPDSI) in 2014 across California. The gray area denotes trends in scPDSI with latitude and longitude. Negative values indicate drier conditions.
Using satellite imagery, this study identifies California ecosystems that are most resistant to drought. Changes in water use efficiency were used to measure ecosystem drought resistance, to improve our understanding of how ecosystems respond to water limitation.
Concerns about climate change effects on cold-water biodiversity sparked broad multi-agency collaborative efforts throughout the American West. U.S. Forest Service research teams led development of massive interagency databases that now enable precise mapping of critical habitats and species distributions in streams flowing through 101 National Forests.
Research Forester Emily Heyerdahl prepares samples for archiving (photo by Roger Pilkington).
The Rocky Mountain Research Station is preparing more than 16,000 tree-ring specimens for permanent archiving. Each specimen is a unique record of the environmental conditions from which it came. This tree-ring specimen collection will be permanently archived at the only federally recognized tree-ring repository in the U.S., where its importance will grow as it is used in ways we cannot currently imagine.
Cross section of a dead Utah juniper.
Annual precision of tree-ring data is often sought for detailed analyses. Important, widespread species such as ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir are often used for tree-ring science. However, there are other low elevation species, oftentimes termed woodland trees that could also be useful, including Utah juniper.
Interior West states showing FIA plots and plots with tree-ring data.
Tree-ring data collected as part of the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in the Interior West is being assembled into a massive dataset with many tens- of thousands of trees. Given the underlying sampling approach to the Forest Inventory and Analysis grid, the tree-ring data collected can be used for many novel research applications.
A wolverine
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is examining the wolverine (Gulo gulo) as a candidate for listing as a threatened or endangered species. RMRS researchers are investigating suitable habitats for wolverine reintroduction efforts, and have found ways to apply models derived from current genetic patterns to future landscapes to inform land management decisions on existing and future corridor locations. While current efforts are focused on...
An arctic weather station (photo by Kelly Elder).
“Silalirijiit” is an Inuktitut word that means "those who work with or think about weather." These projects link Inuit, Yupik, and Athabaskan knowledge with climate science to understand changing weather patterns and their impacts on the First Peoples.