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Amy Hessl
Department of Geology and Geography


The Montane Forest Dynamics Lab's research interests include biogeography, forest dynamics, and human and climatic causes of ecological change.  We like to apply a variety of methods, such as vegetation sampling, dendrochronology, and spatial analysis to answer questions about human interactions with ecological systems. Current projects, including those of my graduate students, are described below.

Reconstructing Climate from Eastern Redcedar

Two of Amy Hessl's graduate students (Dr. Richard Stockton Maxwell and Josh Wixom) have been pursuing a variety of studies of Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana).  Eastern Redcedar is long lived (700+ yrs.) on limestone outcrops of the Ridge and Valley province.  In addition, sub-fossil wood is preserved for several centuries on dry sites.  For his dissertation, Stockton developed a millennial-length hydroclimatic reconstruction of Potomac River flow using his eastern redcedar samples in combination with other tree ring records.  We are also taking a multi-proxy approach to reconstruct hydroclimate variables, including  C and O isotopic signatures recorded in the tree rings (Richard Thomas, WVU Biology).  This long reconstruction would allow water managers to gain a long term perspective on 20th and 21st century droughts and pluvial events.  

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (Dissertation Improvement Grant, Geography and Spatial Sciences, to Stockton Maxwell) and the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Fire History and Climate

Amy Hessl has worked for more than ten years on relationships between fire and climate in western North America and more recently in central Asia (Mongolia).   In 2008,  Neil Pederson (Eastern Kentucky University),  Peter Brown (Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research), Nachin Baatarbileg, (National University of Mongolia) and Amy Hessl were awarded an National Science Foundation grant (Ecosystem Sciences) to explore the fire history of Mongolia's arid forests.  This project developed following the 2006 International Dendrochronological Fieldweek in Mongolia and is focused on exploring the relationship between fire, climate and forest history in the context of climate change.  Learn more here. 

In central Washington, Amy Hessl worked with Don McKenzie at FERA (USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station) to investigate the relationship between climate and fire in the Eastern Cascades.  They conducted a multi-scale analysis of the relationships between climate, topography, and spatio-temporal patterns in historical fire regimes in the inland Pacific Northwest, using existing fire history data from the Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests. 

Cliff Ecology in the New River Gorge

Amy is currently collaborating with Dave Smaldone (WVU Recreation, Parks and Tourism), Steve Kite (WVU Geology) and the National Park Service to survey the cliff vegetation in the Gorge and evaluate the impacts of climbing on both vascular and non-vascular plants. Pete Clark, an MA student working with her, is an accomplished climber and botanist.  His masters research will for the first time, define the relationship between climbing intensity and impact on vegetation.  

This work is supported by the National Park ServiceThe Access Fund, and The Explorers Club, DC.

Terrestrial Carbon Sequstration

With three colleagues Bill Peterjohn (WVU Department of Biology), Richard Thomas (WVU Department of Biology) and Dawn Parker (Department of Geography, George Mason University), Amy Hessl developed a project to estimate the rate of carbon flux in forests of different ages in West Virginia.  Reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will require many approaches from carbon capture and storage to alternative land management.  We used both empirical and model-based approaches to estimate net primary productivity, net ecosystem productivity, and carbon flux with a variety of land use histories.  
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, (Geography and Spatial Science and Ecosystem Sciences).