Cross-continental collaboration through the Scientist Exchange Program

mohrFar from his home in Potsdam, Germany, Christian Mohr attended the third Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network (CRMRN) workshop in Juneau, Alaska last March. Along the way, he had the opportunity to finally meet with distant collaborators working in his field and make connections from his research in the temperate rainforests of Patagonia to the temperate rainforests of North America. 

Mohr was the recipient of the 2019 CRMRN Scientist Exchange Program funding. The goals of the exchange program are to facilitate new collaborations between scientists, build new skills in the field, laboratory, or modeling techniques, and assist with outcomes of the collaboration such as manuscripts, data sets, or research proposals.

“I got in touch with several very interesting and inspiring scientists all exploring the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest,” said Mohr of the experience. 

Mohr studies the interactions between biota and geomorphic processes in the temperate rainforest of Patagonia. Recently, he is investigating the impact of disturbances like explosive volcanic eruptions and wind storms causing and triggering landslides, which in turn affect the carbon cycle on different space and time scales. He hoped the collaboration with the CRMRN would deepen his understanding of ecology, and allow him to connect with scientists doing work similar to his in North American rainforests. Network members like University of Colorado Denver Assistant Professor Brian Buma were crucial in providing him with ecological insights into both ecosystems, he says. The similarities he found between North and South American rainforests were striking.

Report_CRMRN_MOHR (4)
Modeled time series of landslide probability of hillslopes of Chaitén volcano, Patagonia, affected by volcanic ashfall causing tree dieback. Red color scales with landslide probability over time of several years after the eruption. Aerial imagery comes from drone surveys after the eruption.

“I was really surprised that landslides, for example, are that similar in shape– very shallow, pretty much controlled by biotic controls like roots. This is exciting for me because I didn’t expect this so clearly. Though it’s temperate coastal rainforest in both Americas, the vegetation is very different. But surface processes, like landslides, seem to be functioning in the same way,” said Mohr.

As a result of his time in North America, Mohr is using the state-of-the-art earth-surface modeling framework Landlab to combine multiple surface processes at once and look at landslide exposure with input from Buma. In less than a year since the workshop, Mohr’s collaboration with scientists from Colorado and Washington has resulted in one joint proposal submission with a network member, discussions for an NSF-funded international network-to-network collaboration group, several proposed papers, and two additional proposals in the pipeline.

This week, Mohr will continue collaboration with several of his North American colleagues, including Buma, at the European Geoscience Union Galileo Conference in Nepal. Mohr is part of the organization committee and invited Buma to present a keynote lecture about ecological landslide controls to a highly versatile audience for geoscience in general. “In part due to my experience at the last CRMRN workshop, I am convinced that we as a geoscientist community, in general, can learn a lot from ecologists and their existing concepts. Concepts that may help us a lot already exist in the ecology community– so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

This spring, Mohr hopes to attend the fourth CRMRN workshop, held in Forks, Washington. The workshop will explore how terrestrial landscapes of the northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest will change with altered climate and disturbance dynamics and how these changes will impact nutrient and sediment cycles between land and nearshore environments.  “I think this will be a really nice chance to link my disturbance research more to this existing North American network,” says Mohr.

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