Colorado mountains

Putting the “long term” in the LTERs: History in and of the LTER network

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Anita Guerrini
Jenifer Dugan
Adrian Hoskins
Gina Rumore

The emphasis on coupled human-natural systems has opened new possibilities for collaboration with the humanities at many sites in the LTER system. Collaborations with historians have revealed exciting new questions, sources, and methods that expand the notion of long term data.  New questions include measuring the length and intensity of human impacts and determining the extent of landscape change over longer periods than the thirty years of LTER data.  Historical methods employ the use of a number of printed, manuscript, and material sources that document human observation and impact of a site.  These could include diaries, field notebooks, oral histories, and photographs.

The history of the LTERs provides background for case studies of two very different LTER sites that provide contrasting evidence of the value of historical work.  The Antarctic Dry Valleys saw no human impact until the early twentieth century.  However, the evidence left by extensive exploration in that period offers important supplemental information in determining the effects of climate change over the past century.  Historical and anthropological research has demonstrated that the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site has been inhabited by humans for over 8,500 years.  Historical and geologic evidence from the past two centuries documents major changes in sea level and coastal vegetation, among other things.  Integrating information from these diverse sources has provided missing context and informed current restoration planning for coastal ecosystems.

Background Photo by: Nicole Hansen - Jornada (JRN) LTER