Latest tree monitoring technologies support climate adaptation and mitigation

A new project uses TreeTalker sensors and online technologies to continuously measure the ability of trees to store carbon and be resilient to environmental change, providing information that would enable forest owners to adapt their management practices more quickly.

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Photo: Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC)

There is a strong connection between tree ecosystems and the climate system. However, the feedback between the two relies on a range of factors, such as species composition, abiotic disturbances and biotic interactions, as well as climate regimes experienced in the past and occurring in the present.

A new project uses TreeTalker sensors and online technologies to facilitate measurement of various parameters indicating the growth and health status of trees. This will allow for continuous measurement of the trees’ ability to store carbon and be resilient to environmental change, providing information that would enable forest owners to adapt their management practices more quickly.

Extreme climate events pose a significant risk for terrestrial ecosystems, decreasing the forest’s ability to absorb carbon, or even to release carbon into the atmosphere. Moreover, increased tree mortality and functionality losses have impacts on biodiversity and habitat degradation.

Under such fragile conditions of terrestrial ecosystems due to environmental change, forest management and certification are playing an increasingly key role.

Currently, PEFC sustainable forest management certification relies on dedicated, and often time-consuming, field measurements of several biotic and abiotic indicators. Certification bodies then verify these with their own instruments, measuring the reliability of this recorded data.

However, the continuous measurement of vegetated ecosystems’ ability to store carbon and be resilient to environmental change could be possible through an increased density of observations of tree health, growth and water exchanges.

Improved access to this information would enable forest owners to act faster and adapt their forest management practices in response to any changes within their forest. It would also enable certification bodies to carry out their verification process more efficiently, thereby helping to improve the certification process.

In order to explore those possibilities, the 2018 PEFC Collaboration Fund is supporting PEFC Italy and the Foundation Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC), in the TRACE project (TRee monitoring to support climate Adaptation and mitigation through pefc Certification).

The project will rely on latest-generation Internet of Things technologies, including an online platform for the acquisition, transmission, processing and storage of data. TreeTalker sensors, an innovative and low-cost device, will be attached to selected trees within the forest. They will measure various eco-physiological/biological parameters, such as water transport within the tree, water content of the stem, the diameter growth and the quality/quantity of the tree foliage. The sensors will then transmit the data to the cloud-based platform, to be processed and correlated with environmental data to provide information about the growth and health status of the trees.

To ensure the data is useable for everybody, the project will “translate” this data to produce information that certification bodies can use for their pre-audit and that forest owners can use to monitor the health of their forest. Training on how to use the system will also be provided.

The Italian PEFC-certified forest is one of the 150 forest sites that can be studied through CMCC solutions, to build a “worldwide tree network” distributed across the most vulnerable and representative forests of the world, from boreal to temperate and tropical regions.

The Trace project is founded by the PEFC Collaboration Fund, the PEFC International competitive small grants Programme. Since 2011 it supports efforts to advance sustainable forest management and forest certification around the world by PEFC members and partner organisations.