Cyberforests help scientists predict the effects of climate change
Considering that it takes hundreds ofyears for forests to grow, it can be difficult to assess how they'llbe affected by climate change in the long term. To address thatproblem, researchers at Washington State University have created theworld's first computer simulation capable of growing realisticforests, using the model to predict how things like frequentwildfires or drought might impact forests across North America.
The new computer simulation allowsscientists to grow a virtual forest over the period of a few weeks.Known as LES (after the Russian word for forest), the systemsimulates the growth of 100 x 100 m (330 x 330 ft) areas ofvegetation, that are then scaled up to simulate entire forests. It'smore complex than any previous systems, simulating both canopystructures and intricate root systems for each tree. Each leafcompetes for sunlight, while beneath the virtual earth, theorganisms' roots compete for water resources.
In order to ensure that the modelaccurately represents real-life forests, the researchers turned tothe US Department of Agriculture's Forest Inventory and Analysisprogram, as well as other forestry databases. They also worked withthe US Forest Service to fly drones over and around forests, imagingthem to gather further information and develop 3D models, allowingfor more accurate vegetation and tree distribution.
The team believes that LES couldgreatly improve our understanding of exactly how climate change iseffecting forests, and how those changes will evolve over time. Theresearchers hope that the system will allow forest managers todetermine the species of trees, as well as ecological factors, thatare central to forests re-establishing themselves are being disturbedby events such as wildfires.
"The fear is that drier conditions inthe future will prevent forests in places like Washington fromre-establishing themselves after a clear-cut or wildfire," saidWashington State University's Nikolay Strigul. "This could lead toincreasing amounts of once-forested areas converted to desert. Ourmodel can help predict if forests are at risk of desertification orother climate change-related processes and identift what can be doneto conserve these systems."
The researchers published their work inthe journal Royal Society Open Science.
Source: Washington State University