If one were to examine the professions of the family of Olga Krankina, no one would ever guess that she would end up a professor in Forest Science research. "Growing up in St. Petersburg, Russia, I was a child of the "concrete jungle," she says. "When I got in touch with the great outdoors, I decided to make it my profession. This was really in opposition to family tradition, which had nothing to do with the forests and nature and the outdoors in general. My family was full of pharmacists and also engineers who designed and tested electronic equipment for everything from airplanes to submarines. I wanted something different professionally, but I also wanted to follow the path of my grandmother to academia—she was an associate professor in the school of Pharmacy."
Krankina's motivation to work toward advanced degrees was inspired by her grandmother, who earned her PhD in Chemistry in the early 1940s. Although such a career choice was rare for women in the U.S. at the time, it was not unusual for women in Russia, she says. Even so, there were still issues of gender equality: "I remember my grandma saying, ‘To achieve equal success with a man, a woman has to be twice as good. Fortunately this is usually not a problem.'" "Not very politically correct in this day," acknowledges Krankina, "but she makes an interesting point about her own time."
To take the first step toward achieving her goals, Krankina decided to study forest management and forest science when it came time to head off to the university in St. Petersburg. When Perestroika began, "There was a resurgence of interest in understanding Russia and Russian forests, and with them, Russian forest science," she explains. "While at the St. Petersburg Forest Academy, I was invited to a conference in Corvallis to give a talk about Russian forests, and forest fires in particular."
As it happens, OSU's Mark Harmon, Professor of Forest Ecology in the Forest Science Department, was also giving a talk at the same conference, on the subject of the importance of coarse woody debris in carbon cycling. "Mark was explaining with great passion about how little research is done on the subject, and so I suggested an idea for a joint research project into course woody debris in Russia," Krankina says. "From that point on, I've been doing research at Oregon State."
Why are dead trees important when it comes to carbon cycling? "Dead trees don't go to heaven," Krankina says with a smile. "After they die, they stay on earth and retain their carbon for a long time. That is a very significant carbon pool that was not well accounted for, and this is the reason why I think it is important to conduct further research on the subject. My goal right now is to research how much carbon is released from a dead tree and the rate in which it does so, and with that, how much of a tree's carbon remains in the woody debris."
The focus of her research program changed over time. "Initially, I focused primarily on the role of course woody debris in carbon cycling, but recently, my research has shifted toward looking at all ecosystem components and the use of remote sensing methods to examine forest disturbance and its role in carbon cycling."
Remote sensing, she explains, involves the use of satellite imagery as a means for detecting forest disturbance by timber harvest, fire, insects or other agents. These events are a key to understanding the role of forest in carbon exchange with the atmosphere.
While most of this research takes place in Russia, Krankina would like to do more international work in the future. "I am involved with several broad, international programs that engage people's research in different countries and different geographic areas of the world," she says. "The goal is to try to build on their past work to help validate global maps of vegetation or different ecosystems' properties."
Additionally, she is working to plan a project that would look at different fuel management techniques in southern Oregon and northern California in an effort to reduce potential emissions from forest fires.
Krankina summarizes her vision for the future of forestry by stating the importance of knowledge of the carbon cycle. "I think people's futures depend on their ability to manage their environment, the carbon cycle in particular," she says. "I guess my mission is to do what I can to provide a knowledge basis for making those decisions. Should people cut down on driving to'work, or plant more trees so that they can offset those carbon emissions, or do nothing and face the climate change as it unfolds? There are pros and cons of those choices, all of that has to be based on science, and this is the kind of science I'm trying to'develop."
The role of forests in carbon cycling and the significance of trees in global climate change are perhaps not the first subjects students think of when they contemplate a career in forestry, but these fast-growing areas of study are of increasing importance. "Carbon is a new dimension in forest management," Krankina explains. "I hope more students will get interested in this topic, and learn to make decisions that consider carbon in forest management objectives."
Bio of Olga Krankina written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry