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Research Results

Carbon Storage in Black Rock Forest


Global Warming is a serious issue that is occurring now. The green house effect is the main agent of this problem. The greenhouse effect is a process that involves pollutants such as carbon dioxide and other industrial gases that are released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and other anthropogenic activities such as deforestation. These pollutants are trapped in the atmosphere by the ozone layer. These heat trapping greenhouse gases serve to warm the earth like a blanket. Sunlight passes through this blanket and warms the planet, but the blanket prevents the heat from escaping back into space. The greenhouse gases involved in this process include water vapor, oxides of methane, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons. The effects of this process appear to be increasing, as the anthropogenic causes of greenhouse gas emissions increase over time. During the eighteen hundreds the Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of a rapid increase in fossil fuel use, and there still is an increase in the use of fossil fuels and the increase of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is a primary agent involved in global climate change. Global Climate change has always occurred and is not a problem if it naturally occurs at a relatively slow rate. But since the change is occurring at such a rapid pace it has become a serious issue. Many events have been linked to the greenhouse effect. For example, as a result of rapid heating, glaciers melt, oceans heat and expand, sea levels rise, causing low lying islands and coastal areas to be submerged. Animal and plant species will be pressed to relocate due to the shifting of climate zones, but due to the relative speed at which these changes are occurring many species may not be able to adapt or evolve, as a result many species may become extinct.

NASA's ICP program has setup a field campaign in Black Rock Forest. The area is fifty-five miles outside New York. The area of study was along a dirt road called Continental Road. The specific area that was picked to study was a hardwood site and a coniferous tree plantation. The hardwood site showed an absence of human impact, thus being the control. The coniferous tree plantation was a tree plantation with the presence of human impact, thus being the experiment. The forest ecosystem is the ideal area of studying climatic change. The forest plays a major factor in carbon cycle. In the carbon cycle tree take in carbon in the process of photosynthesis. Carbon is a vital component of organic materials. Other animals and plants also release carbon. Carbon storage is relevant to global warming and human impact. As more anthropogenic activities of burning fossil fuels and deforestation occurs it decreases the amount of carbon stored, thus negatively contributing to global warming.

As scientists understand and study human impact on environment and climate change. Models are used to develop a prediction on climate change. In the article, "You're getting Warmer" by Robert H. Boyle, in the November/December 1999 Audubon magazine article, greenhouse skeptics, including critics ideologically hostile to the very concept of global Warming, question the validity of models. It states, "Sometimes the media, ad global warming critics, leave the impression that predictions of climate change based mainly on models." For scientists to state results it is not only based on models. It is very important to understand the consequences and effects of people's decisions and what effects they have on nature. For example, U.S. President George W. Bush has decided not to be a participating force in the idea's presented in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The protocol was established to decrease global levels of some greenhouse gases.

Projections of global climate change are very difficult to determine due to all of the contributing factors. In the article, "You're getting warmer" Jim Hanson states, "In reality, expectations of climate change are based on an understanding of the climate system, which derives mainly from observational data. Climate models are just one of our tools" In studying climate change many variables must be considered. It is very important not to base all theories and testing on one method or technology. Models used are man made and never one hundred percent accurate, but they still produce useable results. In the article, "Computer Model World's Climate, but How Well?" by William k. Stevens, Dr. Andrew P. Ingersoll states, "You just have to be aware of the uncertainties, and it's just like any other scientific process."

Our field campaign is a preliminary study that is focused on studying and observing human impact on the forest and the role-played in global warming. We hypothesis is that carbon storage found in the natural deciduous forest will be greater than the coniferous tree plantation because of the greater biodiversity found in the natural forest and the absence of human impact. The absence of human impact allows the natural cycles to occur without disturbances.


Black Rock Forest is a three thousand-seven hundred eight five acre area in the Hudson highlands fifty-five miles outside New York City. In Back Rock Forest there are a wide diversity of ecosystems found, that includes young and mature forests, deciduous and coniferous and evergreen forests, numerous streams, pond and natural wetlands. The forest was established as a facility for forest management in nineteen twenty-eight. Since nineteen eighty-nine it was acquired by Harvard University as a preserve.

The two sites that were studied were a coniferous tree plantation and a Hardwood Site. Each site is approximately seventy years old, and it is measured 42.5 x 42.5 meters square. In the Coniferous tree plantation human impact is present, and it is considered the experiment in the field campaign. Mature white spruce and tamarack trees dominate the area. The mature trees are small for their age. There is no measurable under-story present. The Hardwood site is considered the control, due to the absence of human impact. There is high diversity of hardwood trees, with a canopy consisting of many species. The canopy trees are larger than at the conifer site. There is an under-story consisting of witch-hazel and many suppressed canopy trees.

Data was collected from each site over a two-week period. Data collected on geographical features, trees, soil and meteorological information. The data collected on geographical features included the Global Positioning System (GPS), site orientation, topography, and vertical and landscape surveys. To find data on the global positioning we used the computer model that was available. From our sight we collected site orientation and topography, we drew a vertical and landscape survey. It is important to understand our surrounding to understand the ecosystems that are being studied. The data collected on trees involved the area of tree root coverage, tree identification, tree circumference, and tree height. Collecting data on the average tree root coverage involved visibility and approximation. We identified trees by using previous knowledge, and reference books. We calculated the tree circumference by finding the diameter of the tree with a measuring tape and converting those numbers into the metric unit. We calculated the tree height by using trigonometry and an astrolabe. We found the distance we were from the tree and the angle that the astrolabe was being held at, the tangent of the angle then we computed those measurements into the computers formulas. It is important to understand specific details of trees to see the affect it has on the amount of carbon stored within them. The data collected on soil involved temperature, composition, pH, and moisture. To collect data on the temperature of soil we colleted at two different depths. We collected samples of soil from both sites several times to observe the compaction. We collected samples of the soil of both sites to test the pH in the lab with the pH paper. We collected samples of soil from both sites to observe the moisture by weighing and burning the samples in the lab in the forest. It is important to observe all aspects of the soil to understand the role of soil in the amount of carbon stored in the trees. It is also important to understand how carbon is transferred from the soil to the trees. If there was more time permitted the amount of carbon of the soil would also of been quantified.

The data collected on meteorological involved air temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover and type and sun intensity. We collected the air temperature with a thermometer at two different feet. We used the equipment that read the wind direction and we determined the direction. We visually determined the cover and amount of clouds. We used an instrument that reads the volts of sun intensity at two different feet, which we collected at different points in both of our sites. It is important to understand air temperature to understand the movement of gases and the affect in photosynthesis leading to the amount of carbon stored. It is important to understand the amount of sun intensity involved in photosynthesis. Clouds are also vital in climate change, and it is necessary to understand their role with an ecosystem and climate change.

It is necessary to understand that collecting data n this field study strengths and limitations were involved. Another strength was the order that we worked together in collecting the data, so that we were able to verify the accuracy of each other's work. While we worked together, in many instances one student read a piece of equipment for reading while the other recorded it. We found that over the data collection period that certain individuals gained a level of expertise with the particular piece of equipment that they became familiar with. In addition, each team of students contained a teacher whose prior knowledge and experience helped facilitate accurate data collection.

In addition to the strength of the Methods used, limitations were also presented. Among these limitations was the time. There was a hectic environment created daily for collecting data in a short amount of time. At first it was difficult to understand how to accurately collect data. It seemed that as time passed we became more comfortable with the accuracy of the data that we collected. Much of our initial time was spent just measuring out, and marking off each research site.

This field study is the first in ICP record, thus we were trained as we collected data. In future methodology needs to rectify for more precise data and easier availability to other students and teachers in the field.


In our study we collected data from the Hardwood site and the Coniferous site.


Fig. 1 shows the tree diversity found in each site. In the Coniferous site the most predominant trees found were white spruce and tamarack. In the Hardwood site the most predominant trees found was sugar and red maple, and red oak. In total the Hardwood site has a total of more biodiversity of trees, but the Coniferous site has the most amount of trees of one species of white spruce compared to the other site. We hypothesize that more biodiversity found in the hardwood site would contain more carbon then the carbon stored in the Coniferous site.


Fig. 2 This graph displays the amount of carbon found in each tree species in both the Coniferous tree plantation and the Hardwood site. In the Hardwood Site the most amount of carbon is stored in the sugar maple and the white ash species. In the Coniferous site the most carbon is stored in the white spruce and tamarack species. In total the most carbon is stored in the hardwood, but the most carbon stored in a species of trees in the coniferous compared to the hardwood is the white spruce.


Fig. 3 This graph displays the total carbon quantified in the coniferous and hardwood site In the Coniferous site there is total of 25000 Kg carbons. In the Hardwood site there is a total of 33000 Kg carbons. The amount of carbon difference is of 18000 Kg of carbon. It is apparent that the Hardwood site has more carbon stored. According to hypothesizes, this is due to the absence of human impact and more biodiversity.


Biodiversity is one of the main components of analyzing the forest ecosystems of Black Rock Forest. According to our results, the hardwood site contained more biodiversity, thus containing more carbon stored. If there are a wide variety of tree species with varying tree heights and diameter there will lead to a total of a large amount of carbon stored. In our hypothesis we stated That carbon storage found in the natural deciduous forest would be greater than the coniferous tree plantation because of the greater bio-diversity found in the natural forest and the absence of human impact. Our research confirmed our conclusion. Biodiversity and human impact directly affect the amount of carbon stored in a forest ecosystem. Because human impact was present in the coniferous site, there was a smaller amount of carbon stored then in the hardwood site. The amount of carbon being stored by a forest ecosystem is an important factor in global warming. If human modifications are reducing the amount of carbon stored, thus negatively contributing global warming we need to try and rectify the situation we placed ourselves in.

More studies need to be set in place to have a better understanding of climate change and the positive and negeataive effects of human impact on climate change. No future predictions can be made due to the short duration of the field study, but it is apparent that human modification are having a effect on the amount of carbon stored, thus leading to effects of global climate change.

There was much worked entailed in this project. It required much dedication and endurance. For future work we suggest the project to have extra time for orientations to introduce the Black Rock Forest to the investigators, more time to collect and analyze the results to check for validity and for human error. After all the research that has been completed we hope that our work will be helpful for future students who study the Black Rock Forest.


  • Boyle, Robert H. "You're getting Warmer". Audubon. November/ December 1999. Pg. 83.
  • Stevens, William K. "Computer Model World's Climate, but How Well?" The New York Times. November 4, 1997. Pg.3.