Forests are a defining feature for large areas of the Pacific northwestern United States from northern California to Alaska. Coniferous temperate rainforests in the western Cascade and coastal mountain ranges are appreciated for their aesthetic value and abundant natural resources. Few people recognize the riches beneath the forest floor; yet, soil is a key ecosystem component that makes each type of forest unique. Soils harbor immense biological diversity and control the release of water and nutrients that support life above ground.
Understanding how carbon and nutrients cycle in forests, known as forest biogeochemistry, is crucial for evaluating forest productivity, composition, diversity, and change. At the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, research in the Terrestrial Ecosystems Laboratory focuses on nutrient cycling in five themes: climate change, nutrition and sustainability, fire effects, restoration, and forest-stream linkages. This research is essential to understand the entire forest ecosystem and to use the best science available to make informed policy and management decisions.