Florida is ditching palm trees to fight the climate crisis

By Allison Chinchar
When you think of Florida, beaches and palm trees come to mind. But what if those palm trees were slowly replaced with other trees? That could happen over time because of climate change, and communities in South Florida are trying to save the world from the climate crisis, one tree at a time.

“Palm trees do not sequester carbon at the same rate as our native canopy trees and do not provide shade, cool down streets and sidewalks to help counter the urban heat island effect that canopy trees do,” said Penni Redford, the Resilience and Climate Change Manager for West Palm Beach.

With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Earth needs to remove it or humans have to stop adding it. In fact, the last time carbon dioxide concentration was this high was more than 3 million years ago.

Scientists are working on solutions to capture and safely contain atmospheric carbon. One approach is called “terrestrial sequestration” — which is essentially planting trees. A tree absorbs carbon during photosynthesis and stores it for the life of the tree.

But Florida’s beloved palms are the least effective at carbon sequestration. The average palm in southern Florida only absorbs 5 pounds of CO2 per year. Compared to other trees — oaks, mahogany, pines, and cedars — that can sequester more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 over their lifetime, it may be best to exclude palms in favor of more broadleaf trees or conifers.

Miami is also joining the initiative to shift planting priority to a variety of trees — just not palms. Miami Beach’s Rising Above program to combat the climate crisis includes an urban forestry master plan which details the environmental benefits of planting shade trees, including species such as oak, ash, elm and sycamore, in place of palms.

Source: Florida is ditching palm trees to fight the climate crisis – CNN, 2021-10-24

To save forests, researchers are hooking trees up to Twitter

Huge amounts of revealing data can be collected from sensors attached to trees.
Gennaro_Leonardi/Pixabay

Tim Rademacher, Harvard Kennedy School; Grace Field, University of Cambridge, and Kathy Steppe, Ghent University

In July 2018, a century-old red oak went live on Twitter. The account @awitnesstree, tweeting from the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, introduces itself in its bio:

Witnessing life as a tree in a changing environment for more than a century. Views are my own – sort of (data translated by scientists and communicators at HF).

Every few days, the tree updates its 9,118 followers. On February 24 2020 it posted: “The last 2 days were extremely hot for February. When is this heatwave going to end?”

The day before, it had complained even more:

Now, after a hiatus due to COVID-related challenges, the Witness Tree is coming back online.

The tree’s messages are based on data from a suite of sensors on and around its trunk, using a real-time approach to tree monitoring pioneered by Witness Tree’s inspiration and sister project TreeWatch.net. Led by Ghent University, TreeWatch.net set up its first tweeting tree in 2016, and currently monitors sensor data from 21 trees across Belgium, Germany, India, the Netherlands and the UK.

The sensors fitted to Harvard’s Witness Tree include a ribbon embedded in its trunk to track water flow, a spring-loaded pin pushing against its bark to monitor shrinkage and swelling and a camera to capture leaf growth. Continuous data streams from these sensors tell us how the tree is affected by changes in its immediate environment. This technology is still in its infancy, but it shows exceptional promise.

Real-time sensors monitor the Witness Tree’s wellbeing.

By analysing data from Witness Tree and TreeWatch.net, we have already learned that drought can cause a tree’s stomata – the openings on the underside of its leaves – to close. The closed stomata block water intake, disrupting tree growth. More frequent droughts may therefore lead to less carbon uptake by trees and forests.

Harvard Forest’s Witness Tree.

Forthcoming studies even indicate that individual trees respond differently to the same heat waves, and that water transport in trees can react instantly to the presence of a solar eclipse. With the sun obscured by the moon, stomata close as they would do at night, immediately reducing water intake.

As we continue to assess incoming data from Witness Tree and TreeWatch.net, we will surely learn even more about how trees affect – and are affected by – their surroundings.

Science communication

The red oak at Harvard Forest, along with its Asian and European cousins at TreeWatch.net, is first and foremost a rich source of scientific data. But at the same time that data, when converted to tweets by custom-built algorithms, turns the Witness Tree into a platform for science communication research.

Behind the scenes, a computer program analyses the incoming numbers from Witness Tree’s sensors: cross-checking against pre-programmed thresholds for normal activity, looking for abrupt changes and compiling summaries.

For each key data feature, including daily water use, sap flow dynamics, stem shrinkage and trunk growth, the researchers at Harvard Forest have provided the program with several different prewritten message templates. The program chooses one of these templates, inserts the relevant data, and posts the completed message on Twitter as if in the tree’s own voice.

Because the messages are chosen from templates at random, they can be used as a testing ground to study how the public prefers to engage with different topics and writing styles.

Preliminary results suggest, somewhat surprisingly, that the Witness Tree’s followers engage equally with data-driven and narrative-based tweets. The addition of multimedia – through images, videos or data visualisation – generates more responses, likes and retweets. Any posts that directly concern climate change seem to attract the most attention.

The future

To gain access to even more data, both the Witness Tree project and TreeWatch.net are expanding. The single Witness Tree will soon become part of a forest network spread over urban, suburban and rural areas to study how trees function in different environments.

Future witness trees with fine particulate matter sensors sensitive to poor air quality could help grow awareness about environmental stress factors faced by humans and trees alike.

New trees monitored by TreeWatch.net will measure carbon lost due to tree respiration, paving the way for more accurate carbon accounting. By cementing our understanding of how trees contribute to the carbon cycle, we will be in a better position to reduce carbon output globally.

Long-term, Witness Tree and TreeWatch.net aim to work together to build a vast, international network of tweeting trees: in other words, an internet of trees. The data from this “internet” will provide invaluable insights into the wellbeing of our forest ecosystems – from detecting early signs of drought and tracking the impact of pests and pathogens to forecasting sap flow for maple syrup production.

The trees currently monitored by TreeWatch.net, spread across Europe and Asia.

As we have learned more about how trees interact with the ecosystems that they visually define, trees have often been represented as social creatures in recent research and popular writing. In a way, Witness Tree and TreeWatch.net play into this idea by giving their trees a human-like voice. They use personification as a tool to communicate effectively with a wide audience.

But it would be counterproductive to take this metaphor too seriously, because each tree’s voice is in fact a fiction fed by automated messages. Really, it’s the data talking – and the story that data tells is the brutally honest reality of environmental change.The Conversation

Tim Rademacher, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School; Grace Field, PhD Candidate in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, and Kathy Steppe, Professor of Applied Plant Ecophysiology, Ghent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Source: To save forests, researchers are hooking trees up to Twitter

Swaths of Atlantic white cedar forest totaling 10,000 acres to be restored

By Michele S. Byers

Step into a mature stand of Atlantic white cedar trees on a hot day and you will instantly feel cooler. These towering native evergreens grow so dense that they shade out sunlight and create forest floor habitat for ferns, sphagnum moss, liverworts, insect-eating plants, rare orchids and swamp pinks.

In turn, this incredible forest supports rare animals like Pine Barrens tree frogs, barred owls and timber rattlesnakes.

Before European settlement, there were about 500,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest up and down the East Coast. New Jersey alone had about 115,000 acres of cedar in the Pine Barrens and in the Meadowlands.

But Atlantic white cedars have suffered a double whammy.

In colonial New Jersey, cedar forests were relentlessly chopped down for their strong, lightweight, rot-resistant timber, prized as a building material. The heartwood was so durable that even logs submerged in swamps for centuries could be turned into excellent lumber.

Cedar wood was used for shipbuilding and shingles for roofs and siding. Unfortunately, in the wake of logging, cedar forests often regenerated into maple, gum and pine swamps due to overabundant deer or altered water tables from nearby agriculture, beaver dams, or road crossings with improper culvert pipes.

Today, Atlantic white cedar forests face the modern threat of climate change. Storm surges and rising sea levels caused by the warming climate are inundating many coastal Atlantic white cedar forests with saltwater, killing the trees.

The “ghost forests” left behind are the subject of a haunting art installation at Madison Square Park in New York City through Nov. 14, featuring a stand of dead cedars from an inundated swamp in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Today, less than 25,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest remain in New Jersey, but there is new hope for these magnificent trees.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced plans to restore 10,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar forest over the coming decade, mostly on state-owned lands in the Pine Barrens.

“This is the largest forest restoration project ever undertaken in New Jersey and the largest ever in the nation restoring Atlantic white cedars,” DEP Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said.

“Through this project, we will re-establish once-dominant stands of Atlantic white cedar, but at higher elevations less vulnerable to rising seas and saltwater intrusion, and provide habitat for globally rare plants and wildlife, while capturing and storing carbon and absorbing floodwaters,” LaTourette said.

Source: Swaths of Atlantic white cedar forest totaling 10,000 acres to be restored – centraljersey.com, 2021-10-13

Trees getting a nudge to help them adapt to warming climate

By Nelson Bennett
As the northern hemisphere experiences earlier, hotter, drier summers and heavier precipitation in the winters, due to global warming, natural selection should eventually result in trees naturally adapting to changing climatic conditions.

Tree varieties that thrive in warmer, drier southern parts of the province, or on lower slopes, are likely to gradually shift further north and further up mountain slopes.

Scientists and foresters in B.C. are already beginning to give them a gentle nudge through assisted migration – one of the topics this morning at the University of British Columbia’s ongoing three-day Commonwealth Forestry Conference.

Using a variety of scientific tools and experiments, like genomics and provenance trials, scientists have already been able to identify which tree varieties have naturally evolved certain traits, like cold hardiness, disease resistance and drought tolerance, in different geographic regions.

Climate data can be matched with tree phenotype data to identify which trees will be best suited to climate conditions in the coming decades. Genomics is an additional tool that helps scientists identify key genetic characteristics.

These tools are used to develop seed lots that foresters can use to replant trees in a given area that are the same species, but different varieties that have traits that make them more suitable to a climate that is changing rapidly.

Interior varieties of Douglas fir, for example, are more cold hardy than coastal varieties. And Sitka spruce from California grow longer and bigger than ones that grow in Alaska. They are the same species of tree, but are different varieties that have naturally adapted to their particular environments.

Scientists and foresters are already using these tools to identify which varieties might fare better in certain areas, and use them in what is called “assisted migration” using a climate-based seed transfer program.

To date, the climate based seed transfer program in B.C. has been optional, but will become mandatory next year, said Sally Aitken, a forestry scientist at UBC’s department of forest and conservation science.

Source: Trees getting a nudge to help them adapt to warming climate – Prince George Citizen, 2021-12-18

Upward expansion and acceleration of forest clearance in the mountains of Southeast Asia

Yu Feng, Alan D. Ziegler, Paul R. Elsen, Yang Liu1, Xinyue He, Dominick V. Spracklen, Joseph Holden, Xin Jiang1, Chunmiao Zheng and Zhenzhong Zeng

Southeast Asia contains about half of all tropical mountain forests, which are rich in biodiversity and carbon stocks, yet there is debate as to whether regional mountain forest cover has increased or decreased in recent decades. Here, our analysis of high-resolution satellite datasets reveals increasing mountain forest loss across Southeast Asia. Total mean annual forest loss was 3.22 Mha yr−1 during 2001–2019, with 31% occurring on the mountains. In the 2010s, the frontier of forest loss moved to higher elevations (15.1 ± 3.8 m yr−1 during 2011–2019, P < 0.01) and steeper slopes (0.22 ± 0.05° yr−1 during 2009–2019, P < 0.01) that have high forest carbon density relative to the lowlands. These shifts led to unprecedented annual forest carbon loss of 424 Tg C yr−1, accelerating at a rate of 18 ± 4 Tg C yr−2 (P < 0.01) from 2001 to 2019. Our results underscore the immedi-ate threat of carbon stock losses associated with accelerating forest clearance in Southeast Asian mountains, which jeopardizes international climate agreements and biodiversity conservation.

Source: Upward expansion and acceleration of forest clearance in the mountains of Southeast Asia – Nature Sustainability, 2021-06-08

Fire Destroyed 10 Percent of World’s Giant Sequoias Last Year—Can They Survive Climate Change?

By Alex Fox
Last year, California’s Castle fire may have killed off ten to 14 percent of the world’s giant sequoias, reports Joshua Yeager of the Visalia Times-Delta.

The tally of dead trees comes from a new draft report that used satellite imagery, forest modelling and surveys to revise initial estimates of how many titanic trees were lost when flames ripped through parts of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. That initial estimate was around 1,000 dead sequoias, but now scientists with the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) suspect between 7,500 and 10,600 mature trees may have died, reports Kurtis Alexander for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Per the Chronicle, among the fallen is the planet’s ninth-largest giant sequoia, nicknamed the King Arthur tree. Sequoias can live for thousands of years and grow to more than 250 feet tall and measure 30 feet in diameter, per the Chronicle.

“The whole thing is surprising and devastating and depressing,” Christy Brigham, chief of resources management and science at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and lead author of the report, tells Alex Wigglesworth for the Los Angeles Times.

Researchers were surprised by the death toll because of how adapted to living with fire giant sequoias are. Per the LA Times, sequoia bark can be two feet thick and their cones only release their seeds to spawn the next generation when they’re toasted by low intensity fire.

Brigham tells the LA Times that losing so many mature trees to a single fire signals the fact that climate change and a century of fire suppression have rewritten the rules that once governed the sequoia’s domain.

Source: Fire Destroyed 10 Percent of World’s Giant Sequoias Last Year—Can They Survive Climate Change? | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine, 2021-06-11

As northern Michigan warms, scientists bring tree seedlings from the south

By Kelly House
shagbark hickory saplings he spent months growing from seeds collected 250 miles south of here.

It’s not a species commonly found among the maple, birch, cedar and white pines of northern Michigan. But on this 311-acre property known as Ziibimijwang Farm, few of the newly-planted seedlings are.

“I don’t think it’s been too cold for them yet,” Jansen said as a group of volunteer tree-planters prepared to tuck the saplings into the soil.

Jansen and his colleagues at the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians have planted thousands of trees since the tribe purchased the property in 2013, transforming it into a small-scale experiment in girding northern forests against climate change.

Along with the shagbark and silver maple, there’s black walnut commonly found in southern Michigan, sassafras and swamp white oak that typically ranges only as far north as mid-Michigan, and a host of other species — about 30 in all — that Jansen hopes will become the feedstock for a diverse, climate-resilient forest.

“I don’t know which of these species are going to thrive in 50 or 100 years,” said Jansen, the tribe’s conservationist. “So we cast the net broad and try to have something there that creates habitat for wildlife, sources of cultural significance for tribal members and areas to hunt and gather.”

Intermixed with the species foreign to this area, crews on the property — about nine miles southwest of Mackinaw City — have planted more familiar northern species, such as white cedar and paper birch, using seeds drawn from trees at the very southern tip of their range. He hopes the cedar and birch will tolerate warmer conditions, buying time for two species that climatologists have cast as “climate losers” destined to lose footing in Michigan as the earth warms.

Source: As northern Michigan warms, scientists bring tree seedlings from the south – record-eagle.com, 2021-05-10

‘Ghost Forests’ May Become More Common as Sea Levels Rise

By Elizabeth Gamillo
Along the mid-Atlantic and southern New England coast, an eerie sight dots the changing landscape. Rising sea levels turn thriving green vistas of hardwood and evergreen trees into “ghost forests,” dried-up terrains filled with gnarled, dead, and dying timber. Under climate change, these could become an even more common sight, according to a new report published by Rutgers University.

Ghost forests are landscapes that form when saltwater begins to flood woodland areas that contain freshwater-dependent trees. The water high in salinity slowly poisons trees, and as they die, all that is left behind are ghostly gray trunks that resemble toothpicks. The trunks can last decades in this dried-up barren state, reports Dharna Noor for Gizmodo.

Researchers at Rutgers University, along with the United States Department of Agriculture, found that coastal woodland forests ranging from Virginia through Massachusetts are dying as a result of heavy rain, saltwater surges, and flooding from rising sea levels, reports Matthew Hart for Nerdist.

The rising salt water not only kills trees but leaves soil unhealthy and forests uninhabitable for new growth, Nerdist reports. This report is alarming as coastal forests are habitats for many rare plants and wildlife, such as the threatened swamp pink plant, Gizmodo reports.

Not only are the ghost forests expanding because of climate change, they could also be making hostile conditions worse through a feedback loop. Forests along the East Coast are riddled with evergreen trees that absorb carbon dioxide almost year-round, making them crucial carbon sinks that can lower carbon dioxide concentrations from the atmosphere, reports Gizmodo. With fewer evergreen trees, less carbon is removed from the air.

“One ecological benefit of healthy coastal forests is the sequestration and storage of carbon both aboveground and in soils. As coastal forests transition to marsh, we lose aboveground carbon. Some of that is released into the atmosphere, and some shifts to other carbon pools,” Lindsey Smart, a ghost forest expert at the North Carolina State University who was not part of the study, tells Gizmodo.ong the mid-Atlantic and southern New England coast, an eerie sight dots the changing landscape. Rising sea levels turn thriving green vistas of hardwood and evergreen trees into “ghost forests,” dried-up terrains filled with gnarled, dead, and dying timber. Under climate change, these could become an even more common sight, according to a new report published by Rutgers University.

Ghost forests are landscapes that form when saltwater begins to flood woodland areas that contain freshwater-dependent trees. The water high in salinity slowly poisons trees, and as they die, all that is left behind are ghostly gray trunks that resemble toothpicks. The trunks can last decades in this dried-up barren state, reports Dharna Noor for Gizmodo.

To mitigate ghost forests, coastal forests need protection from development, and proper planning and collaboration with landowners must be established, according to the Rutgers report. Solutions the researchers suggest include creating living shorelines by planting trees to slow erosion, depositing sediments to help marshes move to higher elevation as sea levels rise, and planting forest vegetation that can tolerate changes in soil.

“This study adds to the growing evidence that this is not a localized phenomenon, given other reports up and down the east coast,” Smart tells Gizmodo. “While the rate and extent varies based on local site characteristics, it’s clear that sea-level rise and the synergistic pressures between sea-level rise and land use modification…are changing our coasts, impacting our coastal forests.”

Source: What is a Ghost Forest? – Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine, 2021-03-19

Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention

By Amanda Peacher
In a region of Austria known as the wood quarter, a logger used a chainsaw to slice through the base of a 100-foot tall spruce tree on a recent foggy morning.

Herbert Schmid, a forester, watched from a distance as the big spruce dropped to the forest floor. Schmid handpicked that particular tree to be cut today. He manages this forest according to “close-to-nature” practices, or Pro Silva standards.

It’s an ancient technique of astute observation, low-intervention forestry that allows trees to grow and age before harvest. Forestry experts say it’s a valuable model as European forests face climate change and potentially more fires.

Source: Austria’s ‘close-to-nature’ forests may hold secrets to fire prevention – The World from PRX, 2021-01-06