Foretelling Forest Death from Above

Oct 7, 2019 at 10:00am

By Kimberly M. S. Cartier, Earth & Space Science News

The speed at which a forest recovers from disturbances can foretell that forest’s untimely demise. In a paper published today in Nature Climate Change, researchers tracked via satellite the vitality of California’s forests during the recent prolonged droughts and developed an early-warning signal for forest death. The new signal can detect a forest’s death spiral 6–19 months ahead of time.

Statistical and empirical formulas for predicting forest mortality “can change over time, especially as climate in the future will be outside the regime of historical climate,” said lead researcher Yanlan Liu, an environmental scientist at Stanford University in California. “This method…directly monitors the dynamics of vegetation from remote sensing, meaning that it’s bridging the gap between climate and vegetation.”

Complexities of Modeling Mortal Forests
“Every year, generally, [a forest’s] biomass increases during the green season and reduces in the dormant season,” explained coauthor Mukesh Kumar, a hydrologist at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “When a tree is stressed, its physiological functions are impaired. The rate of the recovery of the vegetation with respect to its normal cycle gets slower.”

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