View of the Howland Forest looking north from the main tower. On the horizon on the right side of the image is
Mattamiscontis Mountain (373 m, ~30 km distant); on a clear day the highest point in Maine, Mt. Katahdin
(1606 m, ~90 km distant), is visible to the left of the tall pines in the center.
The Howland Research Forest is a 558 acre tract of mature, lowland evergreen forest located in central Maine, west of the town of Howland. Red spruce, Eastern hemlock, and white cedar trees dating back to before the Civil war dominate the forest canopy. Stands contain large amounts of woody biomass, frequent standing and downed dead trees, and pit-and-mound topography created by tree tip-over. The tract has tremendous ecological value having escaped the mechanized logging that characterizes the northern forests of Maine. This escape came about in part by the designation of the land as research forest in 1986 by the former owner, International Paper. The forest has played host to researchers from throughout the country serving first as a vital site in studies of the impact of acid rain on ecosystems and more recently in research into how forests remove carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and store it in plant biomass. The Howland Research Forest was purchased by Northeast Wilderness Trust in 2007, protecting the forest from any future logging activities. Outside of the central forest core at Howland is a considerably larger area of similar spruce-hemlock forest that is managed for commercial wood products.
Research at the site initially focused on atmospheric research followed by nutrient cycling and soil ecology studies. Howland was the center of the Forest Ecosystem Dynamics project run by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center between 1989 and 1994. A description, research results, and remote sensing imagery from that study can be found here.
In 1996 measurements of forest carbon uptake and loss (carbon sequestration studies) began, and Howland now has one of the longest records of carbon flux measurement in the world. An important result from these studies is the finding that this "over-mature" forest is still actively sequestering large quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. The Howland Forest is a founding member of the AmeriFlux and FLUXNET research networks.
Scientific research at the Howland Forest is carried out by broad partnership consisting of university researchers from Maine, New Hampshire, Georgia, Colorado, and Harvard, Federal scientists from the US Forest Service, NASA, and USGS, and private research organizations such as the Woods Hole Research Center. Financial support for these activities comes from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Energy.