Feature Stories

Mountains of change

The National Science Foundation has awarded $6.7 million grant to a consortium of universities headed by UGA for research on the effects of climate change and urbanization in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

The grant extends the work of the Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research project, which has been continuously funded since 1980, according to Ted Gragson, a professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and lead principal investigator of the ongoing project.

"While we will be continuing the superb work that has preceded us, under the new grant we will explicitly focus on the effect of human settlement and climate change and how they affect the region," said Gragson.

Scientists believe understanding the southern Appalachian Mountains from many viewpoints is crucial to ensure that their unique ecological and societal character are preserved for future generations. Problems tied to climate change in the region and pressure from those moving from surrounding urban areas to the sparsely populated mountain land present daunting challenges.

The Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research Program was originally centered at the U.S. Forest Service's Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Otto, N.C., a 1600-hectare outdoor laboratory; however, it moved into surrounding areas several years ago, making the studies of human interactions with the landscape possible. The new grant will allow researchers to focus on experimental and observational research in the French Broad and the Little Tennessee River basins, the latter with headwaters in north Georgia.

Ten UGA faculty members in several colleges and departments, as well as collaborators at a number of other universities, are involved in research projects under the umbrella of the grant. The Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources is the administrative unit for the grant. The project also has collaborators from Duke University, Mars Hill College, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina, the University of Wisconsin, the U.S. Forest Service Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The team hopes that research from numerous different angles in the project area will help lead to practical ways to control growth in the coming decades.

"Earlier, it was thought that development would slow in the region, but after the 2000 census, people noticed that it was accelerating and turning into sprawl," said Gragson.

Published Saturday,