Scientists are bringing forests to the Internet of Things

Forests have a complex relationship with climate change. On the one hand, they absorb atmospheric carbon, even proliferating in a changing climate. On the other hand, they may suffer under higher heat stress, degrading carbon sequestration capacity and drought tolerance. With nearly $10.5 million in funding from the German Research Foundation, scientists in Europe are now gearing up to equip forests with new sensors to better understand how forests are affected by climate change.

Blending Forest Science with the Internet of Things (IoT:) technology, drones and other devices, EcoSense will attempt to shed light on the effects of climate change on plant-soil-atmosphere interactions. These interactions vary by species, location, and forest stand, which refers to collections of trees in a forest that are fairly uniform in age, size, distribution, and other factors. The EcoSense initiative will bring new technologies to forest monitoring, following similar efforts at Harvard University string forest.

“We don’t understand when or why climate extremes, such as heat waves or drought, push single trees or forest patches out of their peak.”

Specifically, the project will study abiotic and biotic processes of forest carbon and water exchange, how the ecosystem responds to environmental stressors, which will enable predicting process-based changes in ecosystem function and stability, according to the project. outline. Real-time sensor network data will be transferred to a database for analysis and deep learning simulation models to generate short- and medium-term predictions.

“Climate change is already having a huge impact on forest ecosystems. We see an increase in tree mortality all over the world,” they said Christian WernerProfessor of Physiology of Ecosystems at the Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Freiburg, pointing out: The impact of the 2018 European drought on trees. “We currently have well-established models to predict overall ecosystem performance under non-stress conditions, but we do not understand when and why climate extremes such as heat waves or drought push single trees or forest patches beyond their peak.”

Woody Things Internet

The research team will operate several hectares of hilly sections of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany, which cover pure beech, pure spruce and mixed trees. Climate change in the forest can have wider consequences. the forest is of economic and tourist importance to Germany, known for its traditional farmhouses, cuckoo clocks and the eponymous ham and cake.

The EcoSense toolkit may include carbon dioxide (CO2:) sensors, camera-equipped drones and other devices. The team will first deploy commercially available devices and then, starting in 2024, replace them with newly developed microsensors, some of which will be energy autonomous, according to the report. Ulrike WallrabeProfessor of the Department of Microsystems Engineering, University of Freiburg.

“We want to measure water flows with isotope-discriminated CO2: and volatile organic compounds and stress markers, primarily photosynthetic efficiency from soils to the atmosphere by chlorophyll fluorescence,” Wallrab said. “The sensor network will include new, compact and, where possible, energy autonomous sensors to be developed in the project.”

Daniel KnishawA forest and climate change researcher at the University of Quebec in Montreal, who is not affiliated with EcoSense, said the project explores interesting parameters that should be useful to a wide range of researchers.

“As the researchers hypothesize, what happens at the cellular scale when scaled up can have a big impact on regions,” Knishaw said, adding that he wants to know how the EcoSense data will be scaled up and down. : “A better understanding of the mechanisms will help us be better prepared for future changes. Having such networks around the world and talking to scientists from different networks [about them] will lead to even more robust results and interpretations.”

The EcoSense project aims to start publishing studies in 2023, but some groups affiliated with it have already started publishing results. For example, a group including Werner published a paper on a wireless, autonomous chlorophyll fluorometer measuring plant photosynthetic efficiency. With a range of 10 kilometers, the new device can be attached to a tree anywhere and is low power and relatively inexpensive.

In addition to the initial 4-year financing, EcoSense has two 4-year extension options for long-term perspective. The researchers have high hopes for significant results.

“Our special feature is the unique combination of ecosystem research with microsystems technology. “Distributed autonomous sensor principles will open a new door for ecosystem research,” Werner said. “We will gain unprecedented large-scale coverage, both at the spatial scale from leaf to forest, and at the temporal scale from minutes to years, of the processes and interactions that drive carbon and water fluxes, including stress signatures as transient. organic compounds and chlorophyll fluorescence”.

– Tim Horniak (@robotopia:), Science writer

Quote: Hornyak, T. (2022), Scientists bring forests to the Internet of Things, Eos, 103, Published on August 1, 2022.
Text © 2022. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Unless otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without the express permission of the copyright owner is prohibited.

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