WVU professor Amy Hessl is a dendrochronologist – a trained expert in analysing past climate conditions by studying the growth rings in trees. It is an occupation that sometimes requires powers of observation on a microscopic level which she pursues in the Montane Forest Dynamics Lab in Morgantown. The lab's work focuses on the interaction between ecosystem processes, climate variability and human activities in forested systems.
The lab is currently leading a multi-disciplinary project on the human ecology of the Mongol Empire of the 13th century using tree rings, lake sediments, historical documents, and ecosystem modelling.
We have also studied the influence of climate and land use history on fire regimes in the Appalachian Mountains, the Pacific Northwest and Mongolia and have developed millennial-length climate reconstructions of climate for the Mid-Atlantic Region using the tree rings of ancient eastern redcedar (collected in West Virginia). We have explored the relative impacts of climate variability and harvest strategies on carbon sequestration by eastern deciduous forests. In collaboration with the National Park Service, we are exploring the plant diversity on the cliffs of the New River Gorge.
Our research has been published in journals such as BioScience, Climatic Change, Ecological Applications, Journal of Biogeography, Journal of Climate, Professional Geographer and Water Resources Research and has been supported by generous grants from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, USDA Forest Service, USDI National Park Service, and the Joint Fire Sciences Program.