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Coomes Group: Winds of change: understanding storm damage to forests in the face of climate change

NERC / GFC / OTHER

Supervisor: David Coomes (Plant Sciences

Importance of the area of research concerned:

Every year, wind causes more damage to European forests than droughts, heat-waves and pathogens. Extreme events, such as the Great Storm of 1987 which toppled over 15 millions trees in forests and urban settings, cause extensive economic damage and huge disruption of ecosystem services in rural and urban areas. For the past 30 years, the UK has been at the forefront of research in the fields of tree stability and atmosphere-forest interactions. As a result of these efforts, mathematical models for the management and planning of productive conifer forests have been developed and are successfully applied in the public and private sectors. But we have limited understanding of how open-grown trees in urban settings and hedgerows vary in resilience to storm damage.

Project summary:

Every year, wind causes more damage to European forests than droughts, heat-waves and pathogens, but we have a limited understanding of tree responses to strong winds outside of conifer plantations. The UK has been at the forefront of research in the fields of tree stability and atmosphere-forest interactions. As a result of these efforts, mathematical models for the management and planning of productive conifer forests have been developed and are successfully applied in the public and private sectors. Recent advances in related disciplines (e.g. laser scanning, airflow modelling), together with the computational power now provided by supercomputer facilities, now allow us to explore the conditions necessary for a step change in the fine-scale mapping of the risk of extreme winds damage to structurally complex forests, such as those composed of mixed broadleaf species and – crucially

What will the student do?

Scan open-grown urban trees using a Terrestrial Laser Scanner; use the 3D point clouds to construct virtual trees within which the locations of leaves and branches are known. Use finite element modelling – a technique widely used by engineers when designing building to withstand wind – to simulate stresses within the virtual trees and assess risk of stem breakage for a given wind speed. Generate local wind maps (“speed up map”) which fine tune wind maps available from the Met Office by taking local topography into account (e.g. wind tunnels created by tall buildings). By combining information on the susceptibility of urban trees to wind damage with localised wind speed maps, we can assess the likelihood of wind damage more accurately than currently possible. This modelling approach will be tested by extensive data collection – measuring forces in the trunks of open-grown trees using strain gauges and mapping local winds using anemometers.

References:

  • Jackson, T., Shenkin, A., Kalyan, B. et al. (2019) A New Architectural Perspective on Wind Damage in a Natural Forest. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 1 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/ffgc.2018.00013
  • Coomes, D., Šafka, D., Shepherd, J., Dalponte, M., & Holdaway, R. (2018). Airborne laser scanning of natural forests in New Zealand reveals the influences of wind on forest carbon. Forest Ecosystems, 5 (1)https://doi.org/10.1186/s40663-017-0119-6

Applying: To the Cambridge NERC C-CLEAR DTP programme: https://nercdtp.esc.cam.ac.uk/

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