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Researchers Grow Cyberforests to Predict Climate Change

A new computer simulation grows realistic forests to determine how climate changes will affect forests across North America.

Real trees are on the right. Trees on the left were made using imaging data collected by aerial drones and the LES forest simulator.

Credit: WSU News

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have developed a computer simulation called LES, which grows realistic forests to determine how drought, warmer weather, and other climate-related changes will affect forests across North America.

"It is a tool that forest managers can use to create [three-dimensional (3D)] representations of their own forests and simulate what will happen to them in the future," says WSU's Nikolay Strigul.

LES uses recent advances in computing power to grow 100-by-100-meter stands of drought and shade-tolerant trees that can be scaled up to actual forest size. The model is the only forest-growing simulator that creates intricate root systems and canopy structures for each tree, and the roots of different trees in LES compete for water resources in each pixel of the model. Meanwhile, the leaves in each tree's canopy compete for sunlight in a similar fashion.

The system is based on a combination of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Inventory and Analysis Program and other forestry databases, as well as aerial reconnaissance from unmanned aerial vehicles. "We use this data to develop 3D models that have real distributions of space and ecological features," says WSU researcher Jean Lienard.

Strigul says the models can help predict if forests are at risk of desertification or other climate change-related processes and identify what can be done to conserve these systems.

From WSU News
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