Paris of the South, Beer City — and Now Climate City

A new nickname for Asheville

Chris Oishi, research ecologist at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, talks with journalists about findings from the experimental forest's "electric forest." Photo by Sarah Farmer, U.S. Forest Service.
Chris Oishi, research ecologist at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, talks with journalists about findings from the experimental forest’s “electric forest.” Photo by Sarah Farmer, USFS.

A recent conference titled “Measure Locally, Respond Globally” brought 35 journalists to Asheville, North Carolina, to learn more about what researchers and entrepreneurs are doing to address climate change — and may have also sparked a new nickname for the city of Asheville.

The conference, held August 15 and 16, was sponsored by the National Association of Science Writers, the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station, Duke University, North Carolina State University (NCSU), Asheville’s new Collider, and the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition.

During an interview with WLOS, Duke University director of research communications and conference co-organizer Karl Bates said, “Asheville’s begun to call itself ‘Climate City’ because there isn’t any other assemblage of data and field work and entrepreneurial effort going on like there is here.” SRS science writer Zoë Hoyle helped to organize the conference with Bates and others from NCSU and the Collider.

On August 15, journalists headed to the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in Otto, North Carolina. On the way, James Fox, director of the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center, described relationships between “the green and the blue” – forests and water. The topic was a recurring theme, especially during the tour of Coweeta. Coweeta is the longest continuous environmental study on any landscape in North America and one of the oldest gauged watershed sites in the world.

As the group gathered around one of Coweeta’s oldest weirs, SRS research hydrologist Pete Caldwell discussed the connection between forested watersheds and surface drinking water supply. Caldwell and his colleagues have found that 19 million people in the Southeast get at least some of their drinking water from national forests, and upcoming studies will provide additional insights, as well as management strategies for city planners and water resource managers.

SRS project leader Chelcy Miniat, and research ecologist Chris Oishi, also led site visits at Coweeta, and Jim Clark, a Forest Service collaborator and professor at Duke University, discussed biodiversity and climate change.

That evening, the group met with SRS scientists Susan Loeb, Kurt Johnsen, Katie Greenberg, Steve Norman, and local university, non-profit and government researchers for a “Dinner with the Experts.” The dinner allowed journalists to meet with researchers in a relaxed setting to learn about their work.

On August 16, the group toured the North Carolina Arboretum where Joe-Ann McCoy introduced the conservation efforts underway at the Arboretum’s Germplasm Repository. McCoy is the director of the repository and has partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and SRS to help conserve seeds and other genetic resources of plants that have cultural significance to the tribe.

In the afternoon, the journalists visited the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), and toured the archives – where approximately 30,000 boxes of documents containing an estimated 30 million pages – are stored. Scientists and communication experts gave several presentations about NCEI science, as well as available datasets, publications, and tools.

A number of other experts in the field of climate science supported the conference. Other presenters included Greg Fishel (chief meteorologist at WRAL), Robert Young (director at the NC Program for the study of Developed Shorelines), Emily Berglund (professor at North Carolina State University) and James McMahon (chief executive officer at The Collider).

The journalists traveled from as far away as Delaware to attend the conference, and represented a variety of outlets, including National Public Radio affiliates, InsideClimate News, ClimateWire, and a number of regional papers. There were also a number of freelance journalists who wrote for publications such as Discover.com, New Scientist, Wired, and many others.

After the conference ended, Brittany Patterson, reporter at ClimateWire,  stayed an extra day to meet with researchers at the SRS Upland Hardwoods Ecology and Management research unit headquartered at Bent Creek Experimental Forest. Patterson heard about ongoing research and the history of Bent Creek from project leader Kurt Johnsen, research ecologist Katie Greenberg, and research forester Henry McNab, who shared their work in regards to climate change on the changing landscape, fire science and research at Bent Creek and any other parts of the country. Bud Mayfield, project leader at the SRS Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants unit, also met the group to discuss his team’s research at Bent Creek on hemlock woolly adelgid.

For more information, email Zoë Hoyle at zhoyle@fs.fed.us

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