Remote-sensing techniques can make forests more productive, offsetting increased carbon-dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere and oceans, Dr. Randolph Wynne, a NASA investigator and Virginia Tech professor of forest biometry and geomatics, recently told a group of forestry professionals and students at a seminar here.
“Effectively managing forests has important societal implications,” he said, speaking at the second in a series of industry events that are part of the ImageTree “Idea Leadership Series,” since forests provide such vital goods as wood and paper, and offer the possibility of sequestering harmful CO2 emissions.
“We’ve entered the era of precision forestry,” Dr. Wynne declared. “Remotely sensed data can be combined with in situ data to provide accurate inventory, support state-of-the-art silviculture techniques, supply accurate growth and yield estimates, and facilitate optimal harvest scheduling.
“We have ever higher expectations from our forest resources,” he added, citing a growing world population and rising food, fuel, and fiber consumption in developing countries, all of which have led to higher CO2 levels in air and water. “Changes in climate, land use and forest management have led to more forest-protection issues and the need for greater productivity.”
Chosen as a NASA New Investigator in 2001, Dr. Wynne is now researching ways in which NASA could improve the integration of remote sensing into decision support systems used for forest carbon monitoring, among other projects.
“Improved decision making could improve the rate of carbon sequestration in managed forests, decrease the cost of forest carbon monitoring and management, and potentially slow the rate of atmospheric carbon-dioxide increase,” said Dr. Wynne, who also serves as a member of the NASA Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Management Operations Working Group within the agency’s Earth Science Research Program.
Associate director of the Conservation Management Institute, Dr. Wynne noted that while protecting forests and sustainably managing them requires the collection of remotely sensed data along with traditional ground-sampling techniques, “The challenge before us is to be able to answer tomorrow’s questions using tomorrow’s remote-sensing technology.
“Any other course of action will jeopardize our organizations and natural resource base,” he said.
Dr. Wynne, who also co-directs the Center for Environmental Applications of Remote Sensing and is the remote sensing team leader for the Forest Nutrition Cooperative, made several other key points during his in-person presentation, which also was delivered live on the Internet:
- There will be an increased use of space borne remote-sensing systems to measure changes in air, water and land. Historically observed in isolation, the current effort is to look at these elements together and to study their interactions.
The aim, he said, is to make 21st-century technology as interrelated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.
- Very little of the Earth’s surface now remains in unmanaged, pristine condition, and there has been a decline of forest area in the developing world. This decline, he said, has been partially offset by reforestation and afforestation (converting open land into forests) in both tropical and temperate regions.
- Forest sensor technology and extractive algorithms will continue to evolve, he said, to provide rich information about forests, such as volume of trees by species, the amount of carbon sequestered, and fire and pest risk.