Washington, June 13 : A Microsoft scientist has highlighted the urgent need for new computer models that would bring about a new generation of realistic forest modelling to address climate change.
The scientist in question is Microsoft Research ecologist Drew Purves, who together with research colleagues at Princeton University and universities in Madrid, Spain, has highlighted how an improved understanding of forest dynamics is needed to better predict environmental change.
The research suggests that a new generation of realistic forest modelling, which is urgently needed and now within reach, will significantly improve an understanding of how forests work, how tree species respond to deforestation, and how forests impact climate regulation and environmental change.
The research points out that forest dynamics (how populations of trees interact with each other and the environment) remains the single most important outstanding component in fully understanding climate change.
There are trillions of trees on the planet, made up of more than 100,000 species, which contain as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere and serve as home to two-thirds of the planet's terrestrial biodiversity.
However, while other climate change factors such as ocean dynamics are now well researched, the effects of changes to the world's forests are still largely unknown.
Purves and Princeton's Stephen Pacala have explored dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs), which simulate the reaction of forests to past, present and future climate.
"DVGMs have shown that forests could be a crucial part of the way the Earth's climate responds to man-made CO2 emissions, but insufficient understanding of forests, and insufficient data and computing power, have made their predictions highly uncertain," said Purves.
"However, we suggest that the convergence of recently developed mathematical models, improved data sources and new methods in computational data analysis could produce more realistic models. That would give us truly invaluable information to help manage the world's forests and understand their impact on our climate," he added.
According to Pacala, "We argue that we can significantly further our understanding of forest dynamics if scientists work together to use new computational techniques and data sources - provided governments and others make more data available in useful forms."
"We feel that these discoveries could unlock the climate change mysteries of forests on a global scale in as little as five years," he added.
"It is imperative that we create the tools and science to accurately understand the reaction of ecosystems to climate change and other forces - not just for plants and animals, but for our children and succeeding generations," said Purves.