The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) is a National
Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research project that explores metropolitan Baltimore, Maryland, as an ecological system. The project involves researchers< and educators from the Northern Research Station and more than 30 colleges, universities, community groups, and government agencies. The research program advances scientific understanding of urban ecosystems, and serves as a resource for education and decision making by communities and land managers responsible for sustaining the equality of life for millions of citizens in the Baltimore metropolitan area. The research measures interactions between ecological, social, and physical factors to understand the structure and function of the Baltimore ecosystem.
The BES area includes Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and the counties of Ann Arundel, Carrol, Harford, Howard, and Montgomery. The primary study unit, however, is the 17,150 ha Gwynns Falls Watershed. The Gwynns Falls watershed is a mix of land-use types including agricultural and forested lands, recently suburbanized areas, established suburbs, and dense urban areas having residential, commercial and open spaces.
The Baltimore metropolitan area has hot humid summers and cold winters with average annual air temperatures ranging from 14.5 °C in the city to 12.8 °C in the surrounding area. Precipitation is distributed evenly throughout the year and ranges from an annual average of 108 cm yr-1 in Baltimore to 104 cm yr- 1 in the surrounding metropolitan area. Maximum evapotranspiration occurs during July, and groundwater reservoirs are recharged primarily between mid-September and March. The greatest rainfall intensities occur in the summer and early fall; precipitation from this period is about 10 percent higher than during the remaining three seasons of the year. The proximity of large bodies of water and the inflow of southerly winds contribute to relatively high humidity during much of the year.
The Baltimore metropolitan area was previously dominated by hardwood deciduous forests with smaller areas of riparian and wetland vegetation. After European colonization and before the development of the city, the forested areas were transformed to agricultural uses. Forest cover, mostly outside the city, is dominated by chestnut oak, yellow-poplar; box elder, green ash sycamore and silver maple are found in riparian areas. Overall, Baltimore City has a canopy cover of approximately 25 percent with the majority of tree stems occurring in remnant forest patches, vacant land, and residential areas that are dominated by ash species, American elm, American beech, black cherry, black locust, and tree-of-heaven.
Soil and Surface Geology
The Gwynns Falls watershed lies in two physiographic provinces, the Piedmont Plateau to the north and the Atlantic Coastal Plain to the south, which are separated by the Fall Zone. The topography varies from “gently sloping” to “hilly” with locally steep slopes and bedrock outcroppings within drainage corridors. The Piedmont Plateau in the watershed is underlain by mafic, and ultramafic rock types. The Coastal Plain in the watershed is underlain by much younger, poorly consolidated sediments. Soils in the Coastal Plain are very deep, somewhat excessively drained and well-drained upland soils that are underlain by either sandy or gravelly sediments or unstable clayey sediment. The dominant coastal plain soils in the Baltimore metropolitan area consist of Typic Hapludults. Soils in the Piedmont Plateau of the Baltimore region are very deep, moderately sloping, well drained upland soils that are underlain by semi-basic or mixed basic and acidic rocks. The dominant piedmont soils in the Baltimore area consist of Ultic Hapludalfs. Highly disturbed soils make up more than 60 percent of the land area of urbanized areas of the watershed.
Research and Facilities
The BES study area includes nearly 60,000 ha of intact forests, some 120 years old or more. In the Baltimore metropolitan region, a small network of permanent plots in urban and rural forest remnants has been established to measure ecosystem processes over time within an urban-rural gradient framework. In addition, the BES maintains a larger network of over 400 “extensive” or Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) plots that are situated in various urban land-use and cover types that are revisited every 5 years to measure changes in vegetation structure and soil characteristics. The BES also has established a hierarchical network of 14 USGS stream-gauging stations that represent a gradient of urban development, ranging from small, single land-use watersheds to larger and complex watersheds that integrate all of the principal study area. In so doing, advantage was taken of differences in socio-economic factors, land use, and cover among the smaller watersheds in the hierarchy to set up comparisons much like the gradient analysis of remnant forest patches described above. The network includes a reference area in an entirely forested watershed. A network of meteorological measurements was established to support hydrologic investigations and to provide a climatic framework for all studies. The network includes 10 rain gauges, fi ve complete weather stations, a solar radiation monitor, an atmospheric flux tower, and a network of stream temperature probes.
Long-term Data Bases
GIS data bases include geology, soils, land use, social demography, historic land use and cover, urban infrastructure, tree canopy, among others. Climate data, including air temperature, precipitation, relative humidity, wind speed, wind direction, solar radiation have been collected since 2000. Since 1999, stream temperature, water quality and quantity, and pathogens have been monitored, along with soil moisture and temperature, soil water chemistry, tree growth and mortality, and trace gas fluxes. Eddy flux measurements began in 2001.
Major Research Accomplishments and Effects on Management
- The most dense network of urban watershed monitoring stations in the country (14 gauging stations installed)
- The only permanent eddy flux tower in an urban or suburban area
- Measuring community well-being and social capital and relating this to stewardship
- Developing new tools that can improve local resource management and planning
- Classroom enrichment, teacher training, mentoring, and science instruction, including training and recruitment of minorities into natural resource professions
- Development of innovative non-point source, non-structural (using trees and other vegetation) low impact development storm water management techniques
- Measurement of urban forest ecosystem services and monitoring long-term health of both urban trees and remnant forest stands
- Riparian hydrology of urban streams
- Measured surface water salt contamination and spatial patterns of soil contamination
- Measuring urban carbon cycle
Institute of Ecosystem Studies (IES);University of Maryland Baltimore County, Center for Environmental Research and Education; Maryland State Forest Service; Parks and People Foundation; Baltimore City (Public Works, Recreation and Parks, Planning, Public Health) and Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Natural Resource Management; U.S. Geological Survey; Johns Hopkins University; University of North Carolina; Vermont University; University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Chesapeake Bay Program; Columbia University; Towson University.
Lat: 39°24´47˝ N, long. 76°31´19˝ W
Baltimore Ecosystem Study c/o
Center for Urban and Environmental
Research and Education
Technology Research Center
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250
Tel: (410) 455-8014
Pickett, S.T.A.; Cadenasso, M.L.; Grove, J.M.; Boone, C.G.; Groffman, P.M.; Irwin, E.; Kaushal, S.S.; Marshall, V.; McGrath, B.P.; Nilon, C.H.; Pouyat, R.V.; Szlavecz, K.; Troy, A.; Warren, P. 2011. Urban ecological systems: Scientific foundations and a decade of progress. Journal of Environmental Management. 92: 331-362.
Vemuri, Amanda W.; Grove, J. Morgan; Wilson, Matthew A.; Burch, William R. Jr. 2011. A tale of two scales: Evaluating the relationship among life satisfaction, social capital, income, and the natural environment at individual and neighborhood levels in metropolitan Baltimore. Environment and Behavior. 43(1): 3-25.
Boone, Christopher G.; Cadenasso, Mary L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Schwarz, Kirsten; Buckley, Geoffrey L. 2010. Landscape, vegetation characteristics, and group identity in an urban and suburban watershed: why the 60s matter. Urban Ecosystem. 13: 255-271.
Zhou, Weiqi; Troy, Austin; Grove, J. Morgan; Jenkins, Jennifer C. 2009. Can money buy green? Demographic and socioeconomic predictors of lawn-care expenditures and lawn greenness in urban residential areas. Society and Natural Resources. 22: 744-760.
Grove, J. Morgan. 2009. Cities: Managing densely settled social-ecological systems. In: Chapin, F. Stuart, III: Kofinas, Gary P.; Folke, Carl, eds. Principles of ecosystem stewardship. Resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world. New York, NY: Springer: 281-294.
Boone, Christopher G.; Buckley, Geoffrey L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Sister, Chona. 2009. Parks and people: An environmental justice inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 99(4): 767-787.
Pickett, Steward T.A.; Cadenasso, Mary L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Groffman, Peter M.; Band, Lawrence E.; et al. 2008. Beyond urban legends: an emerging framework of urban ecology, as illustrated by the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. BioScience. 58(2): 139-150.
Zhou, Weiqi; Troy, Austin; Grove, Morgan 2008. Object-based land cover classification and change analysis in the Baltimore metropolitan area using multitemporal high resolution remote sensing data. Sensors. 8: 1613-1636.
Troy, Austin; Grove, J. Morgan. 2008. Property values, parks, and crime: a hedonic analysis in Baltimore, MD. Landscape and Urban Planning.87: 233-245.
Pickett, Steward T.A.; Belt, Kenneth T.; Galvin, Michael F.; Groffman, Peter M.; Grove, J. Morgan; et al. 2007. Watersheds in Baltimore, Maryland: understanding and application of integrated ecological and social processes. Journal of Contemporary Watershed Research and Education. 136: 44-55.
Grove, J. Morgan; Cadenasso, Mary L.; Burch, William R., Jr.; Pickett, Steward T.; Schwarz, Kirsten; et al. 2006. Data and methods comparing social structure and vegetation structure of urban neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland. Society and Natural Resources. 19: 117-136.
Cadenasso, Mary L.; Pickett, Steward T.A.; Grove, Morgan J. 2006. Integrative approaches to investigating human-natural systems: the Baltimore ecosystem study. Natures Sciences Societies. 14: 4-14.
Gragson, Ted L.; Grove, Morgan. 2006. Social science in the context of the long term ecological research program. Society and Natural Resources. 19: 93-100.
Dennis, Donald F.; Grove, J. Morgan. 2006. Urban and Community Forestry Stewardship in Baltimore: Assessing Opportunities Using Conjoint Analysis. In: Peden, John G.; Schuster, Rudy M., comps., eds. Proceedings of the 2005 northeastern recreation research symposium; 2005 April 10-12; Bolton Landing, NY. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-341. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station: 270-272.
Redman, Charles L.; Grove, J. Morgan; Kuby, Lauren H. 2004. Integrating Social Science into the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network: Social Dimensions of Ecological Change and Ecological Dimensions of Social Change. Ecosystems. 7: 161-171.
Summary information presented here was originally published in:
Adams, Mary Beth; Loughry, Linda; Plaugher, Linda, comps. 2008. Experimental Forests and Ranges of the USDA Forest Service.Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-321 Revised. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station. 178 p. [CD ROM]
Information may have been updated since original publication.
Last Modified: 02/05/2016