The forest and the mainframe : the dynamics of modeling and field study in the Coniferous Forest Biome, 1969-1980 Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/j098zc914

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  • In an initial research proposal of December 1969, the scientists of the Coniferous Forest Biome (CFB), an ecosystem study centered in the Pacific Northwest and part of the larger International Biological Programme (IBP), expressed optimism that computer simulations and systems modeling could transform empirical knowledge of the carbon, water, and nutrient flows turned into viable forest management practice. The CFB's strategy aimed to use projections of the computer simulations and data from field study to constantly check and direct each other, resulting in a flexible, refined, and accurate understanding of forest ecosystems, as well as a reliable guide to forest management. To what extent did the CFB's research program, centered on a total system model, complete its cycle of field study, modeling, and validation? Despite the innovative strategies of the CFB modelers, ecosystem modeling lost its preeminent status among the goals of the CFB, due to different interpretations of the purpose and philosophy of ecosystem modeling and the practical limitations of administering a large research program. Instead, small field-based studies during the CFB yielded a number of ground-breaking discoveries. Although they diverged from the modeling objectives, these areas of fieldwork emerged from questions the forest's functions and cycling processes that the modeling efforts of the CFB required. Focusing on the work of CFB participants from Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service in the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, this thesis addresses the relationship between the marginalization of the modeling objectives and the rising centrality of field-based forest studies in the CFB from 1969 to 1980. Given the ongoing legacy of CFB research at the Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site and the later implications of CFB findings in debates over forest policy and management, this thesis also seeks to evaluate the Coniferous Forest Biome as a whole and discuss the role of modeling and field work within large ecological research endeavors more generally.
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