The U.S. Department of Energy, however, which is funding the project, has told the scientists to chop down the trees, collect the data and move on to new research. That plan has upset some researchers who have spent years trying to understand how forests may help stave off global warming, and who want to keep the project going for at least a couple of more years.

“There has been an investment in these experiments and it’s a shame we are going to walk away from that investment,” said William Chameides, an atmospheric scientist at Duke University, where one of the experimental forests is located. “There is no question that ultimately we want to cut the trees down and analyze the soil. The question is whether now is the time to do it.”

Ronald Neilson, a U.S. Forest Service bio-climatologist in Corvallis, Ore., said the experiments should continue because they still have potential to answer key questions about how rainfall and fertility affect how much carbon a forest will store long-term — essential to understanding how forests may soften the blow of climate change.

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