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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2010

  • Title: The Metabolism of Boston
  • Primary Author: Nathan Phillips (Boston University)
  • Additional Authors: Joseph Ferreira (MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)); David Foster (Harvard Forest); Mark Friedl (Boston University); Peter Furth (Northeastern University); Sucharita Gopal (Boston University); David Hollinger (USDA Forest Service); Lucy Hutyra (Boston University); Robert Kaufmann (Boston University); J. William Munger (Harvard University); Crystal Schaaf (Boston University); Steven Wofsy (Harvard University); Curtis Woodcock (Boston University)
  • Abstract:

    We have initiated a two year pilot study of the urban-to-rural gradient from Boston’s urban core 100 km west to the Harvard Forest LTER, a Core Wildland Site of NEON. We use the concept of “Urban Metabolism” as a framework to quantify the current state and future sustainability of regional urban and natural systems. “Urban metabolism” refers to stocks, fluxes and transformations of mass and energy within an urbanized subregion and across its boundaries. We measure and model interactions of humans, plants, animals, physical processes, urban infrastructure and marine and terrestrial ecosystems, focusing initially on one important component: carbon flows associated with biological and anthropogenic activity. Carbon is a principal currency connecting human and natural systems. By developing an integrated framework for measuring and modeling flows of carbon to and from the matrix of ecological and human systems, we are advancing science beyond inventory approaches, developing analytical tools that integrate otherwise disparate components of natural and social science, and defining natural and anthropogenic threats to sustainability. Our team builds on and extends an established University-US Forest Service collaboration. Our project has three major components:

    1. We combine spatiotemporally explicit socioeconomic and biophysical data with carbon exchange models to create a Coupled Human-Natural (CHN) framework, implemented as a set of closely linked models for carbon flows in the built, vegetated and marine environments, the ecological systems of

    the region, and the atmosphere. The research question for this component is: how do humans, their infrastructure and activity, and natural processes interact to produce geospatially and temporally resolved exchanges of CO2?

    2. We interactively test and refine the CHN framework using measurements of the biophysical environment (remote sensing, plant physiology, CO2 concentrations) coupled with data on the built environment (energy use, building data, transportation), economic activity, and demographics. The

    models will be validated using continuous atmospheric observations, aircraft campaigns, and atmospheric transport modeling combined with our knowledge of temporal and spatial variations of key drivers (such

    as income, housing, commuting patterns, and population. The CHN will enable us to quantify physical, climatic, ecological, and socioeconomic

    drivers of carbon exchange and anthropogenic energy use at high temporal and spatial resolution.

    3. We will apply the CHN framework as a tool for societal decision-making. Our work will identify and quantitatively link the economic, ecological, technical and behavioral factors that control urban metabolism, allowing us to forecast, test and refine hypotheses about policy options for Greater Boston. This exploratory study will define relevant geospatial boundaries and create a conceptual framework and measurement strategy for long-term monitoring, experiments, modeling, information management, and

    education/outreach in a full ULTRA project.

  • Research Category: Biodiversity Studies, Conservation and Management, Ecological Informatics and Modelling, Forest-Atmosphere Exchange, Group Projects, Historical and Retrospective Studies, Invasive Plants, Pests & Pathogens, Large Experiments and Permanent Plot Studies, Physiological Ecology, Population Dynamics, and Species Interactions, Regional Studies, Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics, Watershed Ecology