MIT engineers make filters from tree branches to purify drinking water

by Jennifer Chu
The interiors of nonflowering trees such as pine and ginkgo contain sapwood lined with straw-like conduits known as xylem, which draw water up through a tree’s trunk and branches. Xylem conduits are interconnected via thin membranes that act as natural sieves, filtering out bubbles from water and sap.

MIT engineers have been investigating sapwood’s natural filtering ability, and have previously fabricated simple filters from peeled cross-sections of sapwood branches, demonstrating that the low-tech design effectively filters bacteria.

Now, the same team has advanced the technology and shown that it works in real-world situations. They have fabricated new xylem filters that can filter out pathogens such as E. coli and rotavirus in lab tests, and have shown that the filter can remove bacteria from contaminated spring, tap, and groundwater. They also developed simple techniques to extend the filters’ shelf-life, enabling the woody disks to purify water after being stored in a dry form for at least two years.

The researchers took their techniques to India, where they made xylem filters from native trees and tested the filters with local users. Based on their feedback, the team developed a prototype of a simple filtration system, fitted with replaceable xylem filters that purified water at a rate of one liter per hour.

Source: MIT engineers make filters from tree branches to purify drinking water – MIT News, 2021-03-25

Laurel Wilt: Current and Potential Impacts and Possibilities for Prevention and Management

By Rabiu O. Olatinwo, Stephen W. Fraedrich and Albert E. Mayfield III

Abstract
In recent years, outbreaks of nonnative invasive insects and pathogens have caused significant levels of tree mortality and disturbance in various forest ecosystems throughout the United States. Laurel wilt, caused by the pathogen Raffaelea lauricola (T.C. Harr., Fraedrich and Aghayeva) and the primary vector, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus Eichhoff), is a nonnative pest-disease complex first reported in the southeastern United States in 2002. Since then, it has spread across eleven southeastern states to date, killing hundreds of millions of trees in the plant family Lauraceae. Here, we examine the impacts of laurel wilt on selected vulnerable Lauraceae in the United States and discuss management methods for limiting geographic expansion and reducing impact. Although about 13 species belonging to the Lauraceae are indigenous to the United States, the highly susceptible members of the family to laurel wilt are the large tree species including redbay (Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees), with a significant economic impact on the commercial production of avocado (Persea americana Mill.), an important species native to Central America grown in the United States. Preventing new introductions and mitigating the impact of previously introduced nonnative species are critically important to decelerate losses of forest habitat, genetic diversity, and overall ecosystem value.

Source: Forests | Free Full-Text | Laurel Wilt: Current and Potential Impacts and Possibilities for Prevention and Management – Forests, 2021-02-04

Penn State DuBois professor has the ‘dirt’ on sustainable urban forests

New research published by Robert Loeb, a professor in biology and forestry at Penn State DuBois, outlines his efforts to bring the experience of rural forests to those who live in cities, with an eye toward what Loeb calls “environmental justice.” The article appears in the April issue of the publication Urban Forestry and Urban Greening.

Loeb’s article details new research discoveries about urban forests that veer from his typical concentrations. For decades he has studied forests in locations like New York City and Nashville, stewarding forest regeneration by examining the impact that wildlife and humans alike have on the forest and finding ways to curb this impact. This has led to work in a new urban-forest management protocol, “SAFE” — Soils, Aliens, Fire, Exclosure — with the goal of increasing natural regeneration through soil treatments, alien species treatments, fire surveillance, and fencing to eliminate problematic browsers such as deer.

Loeb took a turn toward research in soils when in 2014 he began to study tree regeneration in an urban forest in Philadelphia known as “The Good Woods,” part of the larger Haddington Woods in Cobbs Creek Park.

“The Good Woods is exceptional in having a mature canopy, a normal layer of leaf litter and organic matter, a large number of native tree seedlings, and less herbivory than typically expected,” said Loeb. “During 2015, an exclosure fence for deer was placed around the Good Woods and an act of arson caused a ground fire in approximately half of the forest.”

What sets the Good Woods apart from other similarly situated urban forests is that many native species seedlings and saplings grow naturally below the canopy created by larger trees. Loeb’s goal is to determine why this happened at this particular site, to hopefully replicate the natural tree regeneration in other cities.

Loeb recalled, “Growing up in the Bronx, I was accustomed to seeing urban forests with only tall trees. One summer I was awarded a scholarship from the Student Conservation Association to conduct research in Vermont. What struck me the most was that the forests there had seedlings that are lacking in urban areas. I’ve been trying throughout my career to sort out this lack of natural regeneration so that people in urban settings can enjoy the beauty of rural forests when we visit urban forests.”

The most trusted theory Loeb has on the difference in soil composition impacting the natural regrowth of new trees is one that he believes is rock-solid, so to speak.

“If you have more rocks, you have less soil. So, naturally you have a smaller population of trees,” he said. “I found many of the urban parks to have a great number of stones and even boulders in the soil. One particular area of the Good Woods is almost free of stones, and the soil there supports a greater growth of young trees.”

These findings could go a long way in helping Loeb to recommend soil studies and remediation in other urban forests. “Soils are a critical issue and need to be treated,” he said. “When I was young, horticulturalists taught me that if you spend $100 to plant a tree, you spend $10 on the tree and $90 on the soil. That is a formula that has not always been in use recently, but a historical perspective that maybe we need to revisit now.”

Source: Penn State DuBois professor has the ‘dirt’ on sustainable urban forests – Penn State University, 2021-02-11

Subscriptions to satellite alerts linked to decreased deforestation in Africa

By Eric Hamilton
Deforestation dropped by 18 percent in two years in African countries where organizations subscribed to receive warnings from a new service using satellites to detect decreases in forest cover in the tropics.

The carbon emissions avoided by reducing deforestation were worth between $149 million and $696 million, based on the ability of lower emissions to reduce the detrimental economic consequences of climate change.

Those findings come from new research into the effect of GLAD, the Global Land Analysis and Discovery system, available on the free and interactive interface Global Forest Watch. Launched in 2016, GLAD provides frequent, high-resolution alerts when it detects a drop in forest cover. Governments and others interested in halting deforestation can subscribe to the alerts on Global Forest Watch and then intervene to limit forest loss.

Source: Subscriptions to satellite alerts linked to decreased deforestation in Africa – University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2021-01-04

Radar vision in the mapping of forest biodiversity from space

By Soyeon Bae, et al
Abstract
Recent progress in remote sensing provides much-needed, large-scale spatio-temporal information on habitat structures important for biodiversity conservation. Here we examine the potential of a newly launched satellite-borne radar system (Sentinel-1) to map the biodiversity of twelve taxa across five temperate forest regions in central Europe. We show that the sensitivity of radar to habitat structure is similar to that of airborne laser scanning (ALS), the current gold standard in the measurement of forest structure. Our models of different facets of biodiversity reveal that radar performs as well as ALS; median R² over twelve taxa by ALS and radar are 0.51 and 0.57 respectively for the first non-metric multidimensional scaling axes representing assemblage composition. We further demonstrate the promising predictive ability of radar-derived data with external validation based on the species composition of birds and saproxylic beetles. Establishing new area-wide biodiversity monitoring by remote sensing will require the coupling of radar data to stratified and standardized collected local species data.

Source: Radar vision in the mapping of forest biodiversity from space – Nature Communications, 2019-10-18

Wildfire prevention through prophylactic treatment of high-risk landscapes using viscoelastic retardant fluids

Also see the article in Wired

Anthony C. Yu, Hector Lopez Hernandez, Andrew H. Kim, Lyndsay M. Stapleton, Ruben J. Brand, Eric T. Mellor, Cameron P. Bauer, Gregory D. McCurdy, Albert J. Wolff, Doreen Chan, Craig S. Criddle, Jesse D. Acosta, Eric A. Appel

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Sep 2019, 201907855; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1907855116

Significance

Despite strong fire prevention efforts, every year wildfires destroy millions of acres of forest. While fires are necessary for a healthy forest ecology, the vast majority are human-caused and occur in high-risk areas such as roadsides and utilities infrastructure. Yet, retardant-based treatments to prevent ignitions at the source are currently impossible with existing technologies, which are only suited for reactive fire prevention approaches. Here we develop a viscoelastic carrier fluid for existing fire retardants to enhance retention on common wildfire-prone vegetation through environmental exposure and weathering. These materials enable a prophylactic wildfire prevention strategy, where areas at high risk of wildfire can be treated and protected from ignitions throughout the peak fire season.

Abstract

Polyphosphate fire retardants are a critical tactical resource for fighting fires in the wildland and in the wildland–urban interface. Yet, application of these retardants is limited to emergency suppression strategies because current formulations cannot retain fire retardants on target vegetation for extended periods of time through environmental exposure and weathering. New retardant formulations with persistent retention to target vegetation throughout the peak fire season would enable methodical, prophylactic treatment strategies of landscapes at high risk of wildfires through prolonged prevention of ignition and continual impediment to active flaming fronts. Here we develop a sprayable, environmentally benign viscoelastic fluid comprising biopolymers and colloidal silica to enhance adherence and retention of polyphosphate retardants on common wildfire-prone vegetation. These viscoelastic fluids exhibit appropriate wetting and rheological responses to enable robust retardant adherence to vegetation following spray application. Further, laboratory and pilot-scale burn studies establish that these materials drastically reduce ignition probability before and after simulated weathering events. Overall, these studies demonstrate how these materials actualize opportunities to shift the approach of retardant-based wildfire management from reactive suppression to proactive prevention at the source of ignitions.

Source: Wildfire prevention through prophylactic treatment of high-risk landscapes using viscoelastic retardant fluids – PNAS

Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change

By Jeff Mulhollem
Native Americans’ use of fire to manage vegetation in what is now the Eastern United States was more profound than previously believed, according to a Penn State researcher who determined that forest composition change in the region was caused more by land use than climate change.

“I believe Native Americans were excellent vegetation managers and we can learn a lot from them about how to best manage forests of the U.S.,” said Marc Abrams, professor of forest ecology and physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Native Americans knew that to regenerate plant species that they wanted for food, and to feed game animals they relied on, they needed to burn the forest understory regularly.”

Over the last 2,000 years at least, according to Abrams — who for three decades has been studying past and present qualities of eastern U.S. forests — frequent and widespread human-caused fire resulted in the predominance of fire-adapted tree species. And in the time since burning has been curtailed, forests are changing, with species such as oak, hickory and pine losing ground.

“The debate about whether forest composition has been largely determined by land use or climate continues, but a new study strongly suggests anthropogenic fire has been the major driver of forest change in the East,” said Abrams. “That is important to know because climate change is taking on an ever larger proportion of scientific endeavor.”

Source: Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change – Penn State University, 2019-05-21

Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide

by Taylor Kubota, Stanford University
In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships—involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species—has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish. The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

Source: Researchers map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide – Phys.org, 2019-05-15

Plants bounce light to forest floor


Recent research has shown that plants help themselves grow by releasing volatile organic compounds. These chemicals form a mist of aerosols above the vegetation that blocks some of the direct light but enhances diffuse light. This boosts the solar radiation reaching the forest understory and increases growth.

Alexandru Rap from the University of Leeds, UK, and colleagues assessed the impact of plant volatiles on primary productivity by using atmospheric and vegetation models along with measurements of aerosols and plant productivity. Their findings, published in Nature Geoscience, show that globally plant volatiles boost vegetation productivity by around 1.23 Pg of carbon per year — equivalent to around 10% of the world’s fossil fuel carbon emissions.

“Amazingly we found that by emitting volatile gases, forests are altering the Earth’s atmosphere in a way which benefits the forests themselves,” says Rap. “While emitting volatile gases costs a great deal of energy, we found that the forests get back more than twice as much benefit through the effect the increased diffuse light has on their photosynthesis.”

Source: Plants bounce light to forest floor – Physics World, 2019-04-01

Transparent wood can store and release heat

Wood may seem more at home in log cabins than modern architecture, but a specially treated type of timber could be tomorrow’s trendy building material. Today, scientists report a new kind of transparent wood that not only transmits light, but also absorbs and releases heat, potentially saving on energy costs. The material can bear heavy loads and is biodegradable, opening the door for its eventual use in eco-friendly homes and other buildings.

“Back in 2016, we showed that transparent wood has excellent thermal-insulating properties compared with glass, combined with high optical transmittance,” says Céline Montanari, a Ph.D. student who is presenting the research at the meeting. “In this work, we tried to reduce the building energy consumption even more by incorporating a material that can absorb, store and release heat.”

As economic development progresses worldwide, energy consumption has soared. Much of this energy is used to light, heat and cool homes, offices and other buildings. Glass windows can transmit light, helping to brighten and heat homes, but they don’t store energy for use when the sun goes down.

Three years ago, lead investigator Lars Berglund, Ph.D., and colleagues at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, reported an optically transparent wood in the ACS journal Biomacromolecules. The researchers made the material by removing a light-absorbing component called lignin from the cell walls of balsa wood. To reduce light scattering, they incorporated acrylic into the porous wood scaffold. The team could see through the material, yet it was hazy enough to provide privacy if used as a major building material. The transparent wood also had favorable mechanical properties, enabling it to bear heavy loads.

Building on this work, Montanari and Berglund added a polymer called polyethylene glycol (PEG) to the de-lignified wood. “We chose PEG because of its ability to store heat, but also because of its high affinity for wood,” Montanari says. “In Stockholm, there’s a really old ship called Vasa, and the scientists used PEG to stabilize the wood. So we knew that PEG can go really deep into the wood cells.”

Known as a “phase-change material,” PEG is a solid that melts at a temperature of 80 F, storing energy in the process. The melting temperature can be adjusted by using different types of PEGs. “During a sunny day, the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than outside,” Montanari explains. “And at night, the reverse occurs — the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so that you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.”

Source: Transparent wood can store and release heat – ScienceDaily, 2019-04-03