Researchers can now find out just how much climate change can impact the Earth's trees and other plant life in the future by conducting computer simulations on a three-dimensional forest.
In a study featured in the journal Royal Society Open Science, scientists at Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver described how they were able to develop a working 3D model of a forest, which can be used to simulate what could happen to plant life if they are exposed to different environmental factors such as climate change.
Research has shown that recent changes in the planet's climate are leading to extreme weather patterns, more frequent droughts and other abnormal environmental conditions.
Finding out how forests would be able to recover from such changes has been deemed difficult as it would take Mother Nature at least 1,000 years to fully grow a new thicket.
The new technology, which is referred to as LES or "forest" in Russian, is designed to help forest managers find out what specific ecological factors are needed for forests to recover from wildfires and other catastrophic events.
Through the use of advanced computing systems, the researchers were able to create 3D stands of trees that are designed to resist the impact of shade and drought. These computer-generated objects can be scaled to reach the size of actual trees.
What makes LES unique compared to other forest simulators is that it can also recreate how the roots and canopy of real trees tend to develop during their growth.
The roots of the trees compete for available water sources in the program, while the canopies for available sunlight.
The researchers then use data from the Agriculture Department's Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) and other similar forestry databases to customize their model to match every detail of real forests. This allows them to run simulations that would show how forests would react to changing climate conditions.
With more and more forest areas in the United States and Canada turning into savannas and deserts as a result of climate change, it becomes even more crucial for scientists to determine how nature would be able to rebound from these drastic changes.
Nikolay Strigul, one of the developers of LES, said that the 3D forest model that they created can help predict if certain forests are more susceptible to the effects of desertification or other environmental factors related to climate change so scientists can develop better ways on how to protect them.