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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Forest Disturbance Processes /Climate Change and Events / Climate and Air Quality Indicators of Risk to Forest Health
Forest Disturbance Processes

Climate and Air Quality Indicators of Risk to Forest Health

[image:] Total number of thaw-freeze occurrences over the north central and northeastern U.S. from 1950 to 1998, with a thaw-freeze event defined as maximum daily near-surface air temperatures exceeding or equaling 1 C for at least one day followed by daily minimum near-surface air temperatures equalling or falling below -10 C for at least one day in the succeeding ten days since the last day of thaw.Research Issue

Since the mid-1970s, forest losses in the Northeast U.S. have increased significantly.  Although some of the increase is associated with the larger total tree volume, there is the strong perception that disruptive weather, air quality factors, and the outbreak of exotic pest species have played a significant role.  The response by the USDA Forest Service (USDA-FS) and State agencies has included a large and increasing commitment to forest health monitoring, and to research into better techniques of health management.  The most recent networks such as the USDA-FS Forest Health Monitoring (FHM) Program currently have no capability to anticipate or fully explain climate and air quality impacts. The system of field plots serves as a passive system that allows interpretation and response only after well-defined patterns emerge.  In contrast, managers often need frequent, updated assessments of current and developing conditions on which to base management decisions and respond to public concerns. No methodology has been developed to indicate when a forest population is at risk to specific local and regional climate and air pollution stressors.

Our Research

Recognizing the importance of climate as a factor influencing the health of forest ecosystems, the USDA Forest Service – Forest Health Monitoring Program provided funding for the development of an on-line information system that would serve as an electronic source of integrated forest health and climate data.  In collaboration with the USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the USDA Forest Service – Northern Research Station used this funding to conduct a research and development study that investigated the relationships among various regional and global climate forcing factors and the health of forests in the north central and northeastern US, as measured by forest dieback.  This on-line information system represents a compilation of that effort and provides access to:

  • Spatial maps of climatic variables important for forest health in the Midwest
  • Spatial maps of forest dieback in the Northeastern and Midwestern US
  • Background information related to climate and forest health relationships
  • Statistical analyses of climate and forest dieback trends
  • Real-time predictions of weather, climate, and air-quality variables important for forest health in the Midwest
  • Relevant publications

Expected Outcomes

The research results from this study improve our understanding of some of the relationships between regional climate and air quality factors and regional forest health indicators.  These relationships are presented in the form of a user-friendly geographic information system for displaying maps of specific climate and weather variables along with maps of specific forest health indicators derived from the Forest Health Monitoring Detection Monitoring Plot data.  The maps provide an indication of the spatial and temporal variability of key climate stressors and forest health indicators across the north central and northeastern US.  The maps help forest managers in identifying where forest resources in the north central and northeastern US are at risk to specific climate and air quality stressors.

Research Results

Auclair, A. N. D.  2004.  Patterns and general characteristics of severe dieback in US northern hardwoods. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 

Auclair, A. N. D., P. Busalacchi, and W. E. Heilman.  2002.  Monitoring the effects of extreme climate disturbances on forest health in the northeast U.S.  Third Symposium on Environmental Applications, 13-17 January 2002, Orlando, FL, American Meteorological Society, Boston, MA. 

Heilman, W. E., J. Hom, and B. E. Potter.  2000.  Climate and atmospheric deposition patterns and trends.  In: Mickler, R. A., Birdsey, R. A., Hom, J. (eds), Responses of Northern U.S. Forests to Environmental Change, Ecological Studies 139, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.  pp 51-115.

Wargo, P. M., and A. N. D. Auclair.  2000.  Forest declines in response to environmental change.  In: Mickler, R. A., Birdsey, R. A., Hom, J. (eds), Responses of Northern U.S. Forests to Environmental Change, Ecological Studies 139, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.  pp 117-145.

Auclair, A. N. D.  1997.  Retrospective analysis of forest dieback, extreme climatic fluctuations, and global climate changes from 1910 to 1995.  Interim Task Report to the Office of Global Programs, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington, DC.

Auclair, A. N. D., P. D. Eglington, and S. L. Minnemeyer.  1997.  Principal forest dieback episodes in northern hardwoods: Development of numeric indices of area extent and severity.  Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 93:175-198.

Auclair, A. N. D., J. T. Lill, and C. Revenga.  1996.  The role of climatic variability and global warming in the dieback of northern hardwoods.  Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 91:163-186.

Auclair, A. N. D.  1993.  Extreme winter temperature fluctuation, root and sapwood injury, and oak decline in central Europe.  In: Luise, N., Lerario, P., Vannini, A. (eds), Recent Advances in Studies on Oak Decline. Proceedings of an International Congress, 13-18 September 1992, Bridnisi, Italy. Tipolitografia Radio, Bari, Italy.  pp 139-148.

Auclair, A. N. D.  1993.  Extreme climatic fluctuations as a cause of forest dieback in the Pacific Rim.  Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 66:207-229.

Auclair, A. N. D., R. C. Worrest, D. Lachance, and H. C. Martin.  1992.  Climatic perturbation as a general mechanism of forest dieback.  In: Manion, P. D., Lachance, D. (eds), Forest Decline Concepts, American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, MN.  pp 38-58.

Auclair, A. N. D.  1987.  Climate theory of forest decline.  In: Woody Plant Growth in a Changing Chemical and Physical Environment.  Lavender, D. P. (ed), Proceedings of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations Working Party on Shoot Growth Physiology (S2.01-11), 27-31 July 1987, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  pp 1-30.

Poster

Heilman, W. E., and A. N. D. Auclair.  Predicting forest dieback using global climate indicators: Is it possible? [PDF requires free Acrobat Reader- 1,138 k.] Forest Health Monitoring Work Group Meeting, 27-30 January 2003, Monterey, CA, USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Monitoring Program. 

Additional information, including links to data and research products are available at the following web site: http://www.ncrs.fs.fed.us/4401/focus/dieback/

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Warren E. Heilman, Research Meteorologist, USDA-Forest Service Northern Research Station
  • Allan Auclar, USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

Research Partners

  • USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

Last Modified: 07/24/2009

About this Research Area
Featured Product

[image:] Thumbnail image of poster presentation.Heilman, W. E., and A. N. D. Auclair.  Predicting forest dieback using global climate indicators: Is it possible?  [PDF requires free Acrobat Reader- 1,138 k.] Forest Health Monitoring Work Group Meeting, 27-30 January 2003, Monterey, CA, USDA Forest Service, Forest Health Monitoring Program.