Virtual forest illustrates impact of tree canopy contour on climate

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Project lead:
Gil Bohrer, Ph.D.,
The Ohio State University

Research title:
Large-eddy simulations for incorporating the effects of tree-scale structural heterogeneity of forests on flux exchanges and atmospheric surface layer properties

Funding sources:
U.S. Department of. Energy, U.S. Forest Service, National Science Foundation

High-powered, parallel computer simulations of wind flow in a forest can help researchers better understand the complex interactions between the atmosphere, trees and soil and their impact on the wider climate.

Gil Bohrer, Ph.D., has created a virtual forest to study how small changes in the contour of the tree canopy can alter wind currents and the exchange of water, CO2 and other greenhouse gasses and pollutants. Within the virtual forest, a high-resolution atmospheric model interacts with the biological and physiological functions of the trees. The simulation results are translated into images that can be projected as immersive, virtual-reality environments.

"Our brains are very good at pattern recognition," said Bohrer, an assistant professor of ecological engineering at The Ohio State University. "Without spotting a visual pattern, it can take a long time to tease things out of numbers alone."

Bohrer has found that natural and man-made changes to the tree canopy structure - changes such as succession, selective logging and regional climate change - impact the local canopy's relationship with the surrounding forest floor and atmosphere. These changes, though common, extensive and detectable, currently are not incorporated in regional or global climate simulations.

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