Scientists & Staff

Chris Swanston

Chris Swanston

Director (acting), Office of Sustainability and Climate
410 MacInnes Drive
Houghton, MI, 49931-1134
Phone: 906-482-6303 x1320

Contact Chris Swanston

Current Research

I am currently serving as the Forest Service Climate Advisor and acting director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate in the Forest Service's National Headquarters. In my permanent position as a researcher with the Northern Research Station, my activities are described below.

I pursue two main science thrusts: (1) climate change adaptation; and (2) ecosystem carbon cycling. Each thrust integrates information, lessons, and perspectives from the other. The climate change thrust includes collaborative research and service as Director of the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and the USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub. I lead NIACS and Hub staff in the development of vulnerability assessments, adaptation strategy and planning documents, and other climate and carbon science delivery in support of natural resource planning, management, and decision making. The carbon cycle thrust encompasses basic research on soil carbon from multiple ecosystems using a variety of tools and methods, creating information about soil carbon movement and stabilization, and conversely, vulnerability to loss by landuse and climate change. I also study strategies for carbon stewardship in forests, which considers effects of forest managment on forest carbon stocks and cycling.

Major NIACS and Hubs efforts include the

  • Climate Change Response Framework, an integrated set of tools, partnerships, and actions to support climate-informed conservation and forest management. The Framework is deployed in more than 20 states and includes more than 150 partner organizations.
  • Adaptive Silviculture for Climate Change Network, a national research network of silvicultural trials testing climate adaptation practices.
  • Adaptation Workbook, a web-based planning tool that helps land managers create climate-informed management plans.


Research Interests

I intend to continue studying approaches to climate adaptation and carbon stewardship in forests in partnership with numerous organizations from across the forest sector.

Why This Research is Important

Climate is changing and is likely to have increasing impacts on many forests as continues to change. Land managers need specific information, strategies, and tools to address increased societal emphasis on carbon management and the unique challenges of managing forests given uncertainty about the range of future climate and ensuing ecosystem responses. There is thus a clear and pressing need to bridge the gaps between broad-scale climate predictions, academic discussions of ecosystem responses, and actual management activities in forests. My work with NIACS and the Hub helps bridge those gaps. My work with carbon stewardship - soil carbon in particular, also addresses this need. Soil carbon is a fundamental component of forest productivity and structure, strongly influencing soil fertility, resistance to erosion and compaction, and water storage and availability. Soil carbon also plays a large role in global fluxes of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. Globally, there is at least twice as much carbon in the soil as in the atmosphere, and two thirds of forest carbon is in the soil. Understanding the forms and fate of forest soil carbon can help us predict, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of disturbance at wide spatial and temporal scales. Understanding and applying approaches to carbon stewardship more broadly can help us mitigate greehouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change.


  • Oregon State University, Ph.D. Forest Science, 2000
  • Oregon State University, M.S. Forest Science, 1996
  • Humboldt State University, B.S. Forest Ecology and Soils (NRPI), 1993

Professional Experience

  • Project Leader, Climate, Fire, and Carbon Cycle Sciences Research Work Unit 2018 - Current
  • Director, USDA Northern Forests Climate Hub 2014 - Current
  • Director, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science 2008 - Current
  • Adjunct Professor, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University 2007 - Current
  • Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station 2007 - Current
  • Environmental Scientist, Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 2005 - 2007
  • Post-doctoral Scientist, Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 2002 - 2005
  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Unité Biogéochimie des Ecosystèmes Forestiers, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France 2000 - 2002

Professional Organizations

  • North American Carbon Program (2010 - Current)
  • International Soil Carbon Network (2009 - Current)
    Science Steering Group
    Past Chair of SSG
  • Ecosystem Science Center (2007 - Current)
  • American Geophysical Union (2002 - Current)
  • Soil Science Society of America (1993 - 2018)

Awards & Recognition

  • Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources (individual achievement), 2021 National Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Climate Adaptation Strategy's Joint Implementation Working Group; leadership in developing a wide array of adaptation-focused programs and resources, and growing professional specialization in climate adaptation
  • Great Lakes Regional Adaptation Leadership Award, 2018 Awarded by the American Society of Adaptation Professionals for excellence in adaptation leadership.
  • Climate Adaptation Leadership Award for Natural Resources (federal agency), 2016 National Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Climate Adaptation Strategy's Joint Implementation Working Group; outstanding leadership to advance the resilience of the Nation's living natural resources in a changing climate; awarded NIACS
  • Minnesota Climate Change Adaptation Award, 2014 Minnesota Climate Adaptation Partnership; leadership in climate adaptation by an institution, awarded to the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
  • USFS Chief's Honor Award, Excellence in Science and Technology, 2013 developing and delivering scientific principles, partnerships, and actions for adaptation to climate change in national forests; awarded to lead climate change scientists - Linda Joyce, Constance Millar, David Peterson, and Christopher Swanston
  • NRS Director's Excellence in Science and Technology Award, 2013 The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) is recognized for its outstanding value in providing service to the forestry community by creating an array of information resources, providing direct outreach, and developing adaptation tools.

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Other Publications

  • Fröberg, M.; Jardine, P.M.; Hanson, P.J.; Swanston, C.W.; Todd, D.E.; Tarver, J.R.; Garten Jr., C.T. 2007. Low dissolved organic carbon input from fresh litter to deep mineral soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 71(2):347-354.
  • Krull, E.S.; Swanston, C.W.; Skjemstad, J.O.; McGowan, J.A. 2006. The importance of charcoal in determining the age and chemistry of organic carbon in surface soils. Journal of Geophysical Research - Biogeochemistry. 111(G04001):doi:10.1029/2006JG000194.
  • Sollins, P.; Swanston, C.; Kleber, M.; Filley, T.; Kramer, M.; Crow, S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Lajtha, K.; Bowden, R. 2006. Organic C and N stabilization in a forest soil: Evidence from sequential density fractionation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 38(11):3313-3324.
  • Hanson, P.J.; Swanston, C.W.; Garten Jr., C.T.; Todd, D.E.; Trumbore, S.E. 2005. Reconciling change in Oi-horizon carbon-14 with mass loss for an oak forest. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 69(5):1492-1502.
  • Swanston, C.W.; Torn, M.S.; Hanson, P.J.; Southon, J.R.; Garten, C.T.; Hanlon, E.M.; Ganio, L. 2005. Initial characterization of processes of soil carbon stabilization using forest stand-level radiocarbon enrichment. Geoderma. 128(1-2):52-62.
  • Swanston, C.; Homann, P.S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Myrold, D.D.; Ganio, L.; Sollins, P. 2004. Long-term effects of elevated nitrogen on forest soil organic matter stability. Biogeochemistry. 70(2):229-252.
  • Swanston, C.W.; Caldwell, B.A.; Homann, P.S.; Ganio, L.; Sollins, P. 2002. Carbon dynamics during a long-term incubation of separate and recombined density fractions from seven forest soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 34(8):1121-1130.
  • Homann, P.S.; Caldwell, B.A.; Chappell, H.N.; Sollins, P.; Swanston, C.W. 2001. Douglas-fir soil C and N properties a decade after termination of urea fertilization. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 31(12):2225-2236.
  • Sollins, P.; Glassman, C.A.; Paul, E.A.; Swanston, C.; Lajtha, K.; Heil, J.W.; Elliott, E.T. 1999. Soil Carbon and Nitrogen: Pools and Fractions. In: G. P. Robertson, C. S. Bledsoe, D. C. Coleman and P. Sollins, eds. Standard Soil Methods for Long-Term Ecological Research. New York: Oxford University Press. 89-105.
  • Swanston, C.W.; Myrold, D.D. 1998. Evaluation of the stem injection technique and subsequent 15N partitioning in red alder crowns. Plant and Soil. 198(1):63-69.
  • Swanston, C.W.; Myrold, D.D. 1997. Incorporation of nitrogen from decomposing red alder leaves into plants and soil of a recent clearcut in Oregon. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 27(9):1496-1502.

National Research Highlights

Forest Service researchers are helping tribes develop climate change adaptation plans.

Dibaginjigaadeg Anishinaabe Ezhitwaad: A Tribal Climate Adaptation Menu

Year: 2019

USDA Forest Service researchers helped to create a new resource that incorporates indigenous perspectives and traditional ecological knowledge into climate change adaptation planning. This resource is being used to help tribal natural resources professionals develop climate adaptation plans and to help nontribal organizations communicate with tribal communities.

Close-up view of hands surrounding a freshly-planted pine tree seedling

Another Benefit of Reforestation: Soil Carbon Sequestration

Year: 2018

The rate of carbon sequestration in forests is projected to decline in the decades ahead, largely because more forest land will be developed and today’s aging forests sequester less carbon. In a first-of-its-kind analysis, Northern Research Station scientists and University of Michigan partners have found that forest soils can potentially sequester two billion tons of carbon this century with increased reforestation efforts.

Map showing the location of projects supported by the Radiocarbon Collaborative.

Radiocarbon sheds light on climate change and carbon cycle

Year: 2017

The Forest Service provides nationwide support for carbon and climate research through the Radiocarbon Collaborative, which has supported a wide range of projects that have produced high-impact publications, as well as important information for land managers and conservationists. In 2017, the Radiocarbon Collaborative launched an online resource center featuring radiocarbon information and social networking opportunities.

Staff at Mississippi Park Connection are testing bald cypress and black tupelo as potential replacements to ash trees lost to emerald ash borer at Pigs Eye Park in Saint Paul, MN. These species were chosen because they are adapted to warmer temperatures and flooding.

Adapting urban forests to a changing climate

Year: 2017

A framework for urban forest vulnerability assessment and adaptation, piloted with partners in the Chicago region, is informing master planning for urban trees in the city of Chicago and is expanding to other urban areas in the Midwest and Northeast.

The Adaptation Workbook online tool is a structured tool for land managers to use to integrate climate change into management plans. Users of the tool draw from ecosystem vulnerability assessments published by the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station. Danielle Shannon, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science.

Resources Help Land Managers Adapt to a Changing Climate

Year: 2016

An adaptation planning tool developed by the Forest Service and its partners has helped generate more than 185 examples of climate change adaptation across the Northeast and Midwest.

Village Of Riverside, one of 10 communities participating in the pilot effort in the Chicago Wilderness region. Michael Collins, Village of Riverside

Urban Forestry Climate Change Response Framework Pilot Launched

Year: 2015

Forest Service scientists are working to incorporate climate change considerations into urban forest management in the Chicago area. Recently, they co-sponsored, with the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, two workshops and a national conference.

Natural resource professionals discuss how forests can adapt to climate change. Photo courtesy of Eli Sagor, Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative. Science teachers visit an adaptation demonstration project developed by the Bad River Natural Resources Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science. Photo courtesy of G-WOW team. Eli Sagor, Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative.

Adaptation Demonstrations Provide Real World Examples of Climate Change Response

Year: 2014

Climate change will have long-term effects on forest ecosystems, and the services they provide. High-quality scientific information is critical, but this information also needs to be integrated into natural resource management. The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, a multi-institutional effort led by the Forest Service, worked with partners to create adaptation demonstrations of real-world examples of how forest owners and natural resource professionals are adapting forests to changing conditions.

The Forest Service's Northern Research Station published a series of assessments that describe the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems. Northern Research Station, USDA Forest Service

Scientists Collaborate to Deliver Best Science on Climate Change and Forests

Year: 2014

It's a challenge to bring partners together, but the Forest Service led more than 130 scientists and natural resource managers in the creation of a comprehensive set of assessments on the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems. Five vulnerability assessments created as a series synthesizes key information for natural resources professionals.

Scientists and Managers Work To Develop Climate-Smart Conservation Strategies

Year: 2012

Project that addresses the needs of land managers in a changing climate has expanded to nine States and more than 133 million acres

Assessing vulnerability of northern Wisconsin's Forests_Northern Wisconsin's ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change; the assessment provides important information to land managers. Tom Matthiae, Forest Service

Assessing the Vulnerability of Northern Wisconsin's Forests to Climate Change

Year: 2011

A team of scientists and managers from the Forest Service and other organizations assessed the vulnerability of northern Wisconsin forests to climate change. The assessment summarizes multiple scientific research efforts and synthesizes the issues most salient to land managers.

Climate Change Resource Center Website Now Includes Science Information from Northern and Southern Research Stations

Year: 2010

The Climate Change Resource Center (CCRC) website, which has provided practical, science-based information on managing ecosystems under climate change to USFS land managers in the western United States, has been expanded to encompass a broader geography.

Climate Change Response Framework Project in Northern Wisconsin Models Strategies for Preparing for Global Climate Change Effects

Year: 2010

The Northern Research Station' Northern Institute of Applied Carbon Science and its cooperators---the Eastern Region, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry---have developed an exciting new approach to preparing adaptive strategies for possible global climate changes. Although this project is focused on forests in northern Wisconsin, the participants hope that it will be a model for many regions and ecotypes. The Climate Change Response Framework Project (CCRFP) has reached out to involve not just scientists and organizational stakeholders but private forest landowners, tribal nations, and local governments in the gathering, assessing, synthesizing, and sharing of information.

Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2022