Mapping an uncertain future for Arctic boreal forests

Ecological memory stored in a landscape can help an ecosystem recover from disturbances like fire and outbreaks of disease. But what happens when climate warming disrupts that process? How long before ecological memories stored in the warming Arctic are overwritten by new ones, and what does that mean for the Arctic’s future? 

A team led by NAU investigators Michelle Mack, Ted Schuur, Xanthe Walker and GEODE members Logan Berner and Scott Goetz has been awarded $9.6M from the National Science Foundation to study how Alaska’s boreal forests are adapting to a changing climate, and how humans influence the future of these ecosystems.

Read the full story here!

Ancient subarctic forests at risk from climate change and war

Data from satellite imagery suggests a boreal forest biome shift might be underway. Boreal “greening” was found predominantly along the coldest, northernmost margins of the boreal forest biome, whereas “browning” was found most often along the warmest, southern margins of the biome. Read the full paper here:

Great read about the perils faced by Earth’s boreal forest. On one front, climate change threatens these northernmost forests, causing increasing wildfire activity, permafrost thaw, biome shifts and carbon release. Complicating matters is the Russia-Ukraine war, which stymies international collaboration and “black boxes” Russia’s half of our boreal forests.

Read the full story here.

GEODE lead Scott Goetz and assistant research professor Logan Berner contributed to the reporting, as did a wide array of scientists and land managers from across the globe.

The GEODE lab is seeking a Postdoctoral Researcher!

The GEODE Lab in the Ecological Informatics program at Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff) is seeking a Postdoctoral Researcher to work on a range of projects.  We seek someone with strong technical skills to make extensive use of remote sensing image and lidar data in a high performance computing environment, advancing projects focused on mapping, monitoring and modeling broad scale ecosystem changes, incorporating climate, land use and disturbance.  A PhD degree in a relevant discipline is required.  Additional information and details can be found here.

Climate change is warming Canada’s great expanse of boreal forest, bringing greater risk of fire and disease

GEODE assistant research professor Logan Berner speaks to the CBC about changes underfoot in the boreal forest:

“There is emerging evidence that as the climate continues to warm, the boreal might shift northward”

As the climate warms, heat stress and drought cause trees at the southern margins of the boreal forest to die off. At the northern margins, warmer temperatures allow trees to expand. This pattern of “browning” and “greening” might shift boreal forests north.

Watch the video above or read the full piece to read more about boreal biome shift and other ways climate change is affecting Earth’s boreal forests.

New study shows Earth’s coldest forests are shifting northward

New research from the GEODE Lab shows rising temperatures are causing Earth’s coldest forests to shift northward. Drs. Logan Berner and Scott Goetz authored a new article, “Satellite observations document trends consistent with a boreal forest biome shift,” that was recently published in Global Change Biology. The study focused on the boreal forest, which is a belt of cold-tolerant conifer trees that stretches nearly 9,000 miles across northern North American and Eurasia. The boreal forest accounts for almost a quarter of the Earth’s forest area and is the mostly rapidly warming forest biome. The researchers looked at several decades of moderate-resolution satellite observations and assessed where and why vegetation became greener and browner during recent decades. “Our study shows climate change is causing boreal trees and shrubs to expand into arctic and alpine tundra, while at the same time causing trees to become more stressed and die along the warm southern margins of the boreal forest,” Berner said. “These dynamics could lead to a gradual northward shift in the geographic extent of the boreal forest biome.” Such a boreal biome shift could have consequences for wildlife, wildfires, and climate feedbacks related to carbon cycling and surface albedo. This study was part of a larger initiative funded by NASA’s Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) that will involve further efforts to understand the extent, nature, cause and consequence of an emerging boreal biome shift. Goetz is the science lead for ABoVE.

Read more about the research from the American Geophysical Union’s science news outlet, Eos.

For a short listen, check out a radio news story about the research from KNAU.

For a longer listen, tune in to an in-depth interview with Dr. Berner from ‘Eyes on Earth,’ a science podcast from the USGS.

Understanding animal and human activity through audio

Spectrograms of five soundscape classes. These spectrograms show time (x-axis) relative to sound frequency (y-axis) and sound amplitude (color) for 2-second sound recordings. Patterns unique to each soundscape class are shown by the black hashed boxes.

The Soundscapes to Landscapes (S2L) project focuses on using acoustic data collected across the hills and forests of Sonoma County, California, and linked with remote sensing data to better monitor biodiversity. The GEODE lab’s Colin Quinn, Patrick Burns, and Scott Goetz along with five other non-GEODE collaborators published work where they applied deep learning methods to classify animal and human activity patterns in 500,000 minutes worth of acoustic data, the equivalent of recording continuously for just under one year, from Sonoma County, California. The work demonstrates how a large amount of acoustic data can be classified into ecologically meaningful categories of activity and how patterns in acoustic activity relate to landscape characteristics such as land use and proximity to roads. These data will be used to map animal activity, human presence, and naturally quiet landscapes across Sonoma County using GEDI and other NASA remote sensing products. In addition to understanding broad patterns in sound, the S2L project focuses on classifying and mapping common bird species from the acoustic dataset with the help of countless citizen scientists. The potential impact of S2L work was described in a recent article in Bay Nature.

A New Hope for the GEDI mission? Scientists fight to keep lidar on the International Space Station

GEODE lead and GEDI deputy principal investigator Scott Goetz is joining forces with other GEDI team members and remote sensing scientists across the globe to fight to keep GEDI lidar on the International Space Station. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) successfully sent a lidar sensor to space in 2018. Since then, the instrument’s lasers have been providing scientists with a three-dimensional view of Earth’s forests. Slated for decommissioning 2023, scientists are banding together to save GEDI. As we approach a crossroads in the battle against climate change, data provided by the GEDI mission is more crucial than ever for understanding carbon storage in our forests. Read more about Scott and the other’s fight here.

Spread the word to help save GEDI!

NAU, partner institutions selected for international sustainability award

Extent of forests with >25% tree cover (in yellow), forests with diverse canopy structure (in brown), and forests with high ecological integrity (in green).  Protected areas across Colombia are outlined in black.  Source:  Hansen et al. 2019

Northern Arizona University is a key partner in a project that has been recognized for its work in achieving one of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to protect and sustain all life on Earth amid a changing climate.  NAU’s contribution to this effort comes in the form of new satellite-derived datasets and indicators on high-integrity forest fragmentation and the extent and condition of riparian forests in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. GEODE lab members include Patrick JantzIvan GonzalezPatrick Burns and Scott Goetz.  Gonzalez coordinates activities with UNDP country offices and environment ministries in the three countries.

Read more about it here, including quotes from NAU’s President Cruz and the executive director of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO) Initiative on Sustainable Development Goals. The award ceremony was held the week 22 November 2021.