History of Hubbard Brook

The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBEF) was established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service in 1955 as a major center for hydrologic research in New England. The 3,037-ha (initially established), bowl-shaped Valley was set aside in 1955 for research purposes (Figure 1).

The site is located within the boundaries of the White Mountain National Forest (Pemigewasset Ranger District) in central New Hampshire. It has hilly terrain, ranging from 222 to 1,015 m altitude. Except for some experimental areas, it is covered by unbroken forest of northern hardwoods with spruce and fir at higher elevations.

Other salient features include relatively impermeable bedrock; well-defined watershed boundaries; reasonably homogeneous geologic features, soil types, vegetation and climate; evenly distributed precipitation and perennial streamflow; absence of major forest cutting for about 80 years; and several clusters of similar-sized catchments where entire watersheds can be experimentally treated and studied.

During the first eight years following the establishment of the HBEF, the Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service developed a network of precipitation and stream-gauging stations, weather instrumentation, as well as soil and vegetation monitoring sites on small experimental watersheds. Data from these installations combined with several initial studies formed the hydrometeorologic foundation for much of the future research at the HBEF. The major emphasis in these early studies was to determine the impact of forest land management on water yield and quality, and flood flow.

Figure 1

Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study

The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study (HBES) originated in 1960 with the idea of the small watershed approach to study element flux and cycling. After an initial study by a graduate student at Dartmouth College in 1962, a joint research program between the USDA Forest Service and Dartmouth College was established by a cooperative agreement in 1963. Also that year, funds from a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided the start of the HBES research program. Support from the USDA Forest Service and the NSF has been continuous since that time. Subsequent grants and funding from many institutions, foundations and agencies such as the Andrew W. Mellow Foundation, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, and others have helped to expand the scope and depth of the research program at Hubbard Brook.

The initial development of the HBES was slow and deliberate. The entire effort during the first two years, 1963-1965, was conducted by three scientists and one technician at Dartmouth College and three scientists and one technician from the USDA Forest Service (USDA-FS). At that time, there were no precedents to follow since comprehensive studies of ecosystems had not been initiated. Using the small watershed approach, studies of element-hydrologic interactions were conducted to form a basis for subsequent process-level and experimental research. In this regard, the investigators were fortunate to rather quickly develop quantitative element budgets for replicated ecosystems. These results provided insight into the function of natural ecosystems and helped focus future lines of research.

It was agreed that slow growth would be more manageable and would allow for interaction among all senior investigators, ensuring proper coordination and development of the overall study. Research problems that were timely and particularly pertinent to the overall research goals of the study were identified. Some of the studies were initiated under the direction of a principal investigator, others were brought to the attention of established scientists working in that research area. From the beginning, the HBES has emphasized the value of knowledge derived from cooperative research. At the same time, individual research freedom has always been encouraged among both cooperating scientists and graduate students. This policy has been largely responsible for the intellectual growth of the HBES, as well as its role as a center for undergraduate and graduate education in ecosystem science.

HBES has developed into a relatively complex matrix of projects involving a large number of scientists from diverse disciplines. From 1963, over 1750 publications have been produced through the HBES, providing a wealth of information on the structure, function and development of forest, stream and lake ecosystems of the HBEF.

For more history of Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest:
Events Leading to the Establishment of the HBEF,
written by Jim Hornbeck, May 2001 (pdf)...