Danielle Williams: On Deforestation and Climate Change


Over the last couple weeks you’ve
been hearing from Danielle
, an employee in National Geographic’s Research, Conservation, and
Exploration division, member of the National Geographic Green Initiatives Subcomittee, and fellow with the HSBC/Earthwatch Institute Climate Change Program. During this Tuesday celebration of physical geography and environments, Danielle
employs her newfound field-knowledge and skills to break down the science of deforestation and its impacts on climate
change for the rest of us “laymen.”

November 16, 2008


My Understanding of the Science Behind this
Research Project, and Its Global Importance


With a few rainy fall days of great “citizen science” and a
lot of discussions under our bright orange vests (rather than belts), our team
completed our fellowship as part of the HSBC/Earthwatch Climate Partnership.
There is a great deal to do, now that we have been empowered by our experience.
That being said, however, I feel that the last week has allowed me time to
really process and simplify the science behind this project in a “big picture”
kind of way, and I’d like to share my perspective on it to help others
visualize its importance on a global scale. My caveat: I am not a scientist,
but only hope to somewhat accurately describe this piece of the much bigger
climate change puzzle.

Our team of ten local citizens was one of many more to come who are
participating in a long-term forest research project headed by Dr. Geoffrey
Parker that began with a question: “How does forest management influence stem
(woody plants) and carbon dynamics in forests of different developmental
stages?” That’s a standard scientific research question for you, so let me put
it in another way: “Why are forests important to the service of our planet,
when it comes to the delicate balance of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our
atmosphere that affect our long-term climate?”

Dr. Parker told us that in most of the eastern United States, the “original”
forests have been cut down at least once, if not twice over the last couple
hundred years. You can imagine that just in the Chesapeake Bay region alone there are thousands of acres of fractured and
mature (120+ years old) forests next to newer, intermediate age plots, next to
more recently logged plots, etc. In terms of what this project is studying,
that means we are taking a look at a variety of species of trees over several
plots of forested land that fall within these different categories of age and

As part of our fieldwork, our team was helping to set the baseline data for the
long term project by taking measurements of each tree’s diameter (at 1.3m from
the trunk), canopy class (relative height compared to the rest of the canopy
around the tree) and damage class (missing major branches, standing dead,
etc.). Added to this, it’s also important to separate the leaf litter (bags of
leaves, twigs and whatever else was collected within a subplot) by its species
type and weigh it to most accurately measure each plot’s biomass – with lots of
math equations processed by the scientists, of course!

Read a more detailed
description of the science behind deforestation and its impacts on climate
change at Danielle’s
Earthwatch Blog

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