UA researcher finds early warning system for forest drought

UA researcher finds early warning system for forest drought
Woodlands just off Skyland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa (Source: WBRC)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - A University of Alabama professor is fine tuning research that could determine how droughts are killing forest land.

He wants to save forests by seeing how a drought could affect them ahead of time.

“Forest mortality due to drought is being widely observed across the globe,” according to Dr. Makesh Kumar, an assistant professor of civil construction and environmental engineering.

He and other researchers used satellite and aerial pictures to determine which forests are reaching the point where it’s too late to save them from drought.

“It’s important for us to be able to predict when they are going to die if there is a big drought. Our study does that. We are developing a new tool which can allow us to predict three mortality 6 to almost 19 months ahead of time,’ he continued.

They found an early warning signal that identifies trees about to die under certain weather conditions. They determined a slower than normal recovery of plant life during growing seasons foreshadows forests that are dying.

Dying and or dead trees are susceptible to forest fires. So taking steps sooner to save them could also lessen the impact of forest fires.

“Prescribed burning, they just remove the infested trees or they can use augmented biological controls,” Kumar concluded.

He said it normally takes a full year of drought to impact forests. Researchers plan started phase two of their research early next year.

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