Research & Outreach Projects

Most of the challenges we face in California's natural, agricultural and urban systems require some kind of mapping technology as part of their solution. Sudden Oak Death, forest management, wetland restoration, and public health are areas where my blending of cutting edge mapping research and outreach has proven to be innovative, successful and impactful. My outreach program has a research base and an extension focus: I share research-based information from my lab with the public, policy-makers, and land managers about environmental management, plant productivity and health issues within communities. My approach to research and extension is strategic, practical and nimble: it involves assessing the problem and defining research gaps, assembling the necessary network of expertise to address issues, developing and delivering extension activities, evaluating the program’s effectiveness, and publishing scholarly products.  I involve my graduate and undergraduate students as much as possible in these projects.

 
 

Land Acquisition and Ecosystem Carbon in California

This is a collaboration between the Climate Readiness Institute, U.C. Berkeley, theCalifornia Coastal Conservancy, and the National Park Service and lead by David Ackerly. Protection of open space plays a key role in conservation of natural resources and provision of ecosystem services from natural ecosystems. The California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) has protected 550 parcels that cover almost a half million acres. Parcels vary in size, ecosystem type, land management practices (before and after acquisition) and alternative, highest value uses they may have been converted to if not protected. This diversity in geography and land use provides a unique opportunity to assess the impacts of land protection on ecosystem carbon sequestration due to avoided development and land management practices to help the SCC evaluate projects and plan for future SCC acquisitions. Our assessments of carbon sequestration broadly involve three distinct questions. The first is quantification of standing and changes to carbon stocks in any given vegetation type; this work is led by Patrick Gonzales and John Battle. The second question investigates what emissions were avoided given the protection of the land; this work is led by Van Butsic and Maggi Kelly. The third question focuses on belowground carbon stocks; this work is led by Whendee Silver. 

 

Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project

Millions of acres of Sierra Nevada forest are endangered by wildfire, and there is some uncertainty about the efficacy of vegetation management treatments called strategically placed land area treatments (or SPLATs), and concern regarding potential impacts on wildlife, large-scale forest health and water resources. The Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project was a joint effort by the University of California, state and federal agencies, and the public to study management of forest lands in the Sierra Nevada. My lab was involved in both the spatial analysis work and public participation efforts.  Our two study areas are located in the Sierra National Forest and the Tahoe National Forest. 

 
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California Vegetation Type Mapping Project

The California Vegetation Type Map (VTM) collection, which was created in the 1920s – 1930s (spearheaded by A E Wieslander) is a valuable historical resource for understanding changes over a decadal scale to California’s wildlands and urban interface. My lab was part of a larger project to digitize this dataset, and make it web available for researchers. We've made the entire collection available via an open API: vtm.berkeley.edu, and we are working on several projects that use the data in comparison with modern vegetation data. 

 
 

Forest Structure & Lidar

My group has developed a number of technical breakthroughs in remote sensing of forest structure using lidar, and many of our results are directly useful to forest managers. Lidar data can be mined to identify and map key ecological components of forests. Lidar proved useful for characterizing the forest habitat conditions surrounding trees and snags used by the Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti) for denning activity. We investigated the critical tradeoffs between Lidar point density and accuracy and found that low-density Lidar data may be capable of estimating plot-level forest structure metrics reliably in some situations which will provide considerable cost savings to managers acquiring Lidar data over large areas. We explored the use of Lidar data to produce the forest-related variables used in fire behavior modeling. We have also explored the use of lidar to map forest biomass through a rigorous assessment of the uncertainty associated with equations used to estimate tree volume allometric equations, and through an exploration of the overlapping nature of tree crowns in biomass estimates, and through linking Lidar data with satellite remote sensing. 

 
 

Dark Data

Understanding the ecological impacts of a changing climate in California will require research using a synthesis of historical and contemporary data.  Detailed records of past agricultural, ecological, and climate conditions exist across the state of California in several forms, including paper archives, historic imagery, biological specimens, and digital data. Unfortunately, these materials are often hidden, many are disorganized or degraded, and some exist as “dark archives” that are currently invisible to researchers. The ANR Research and Extension Centers (RECs) provide an example of both the challenges we face and potential benefits we might reap in bringing these data to light. The diversity of REC sites and wealth of historical research and collections makes our efforts in dark data recovery significant: we need to gather and organize historical materials in ways that make them visible to researchers and useable as research data into the future.

 
 

Climate Change and Open Data

Recent efforts in my lab to digitize historic data and compare with contemporary records of forest structure in California has resulted in a paper in PNAS that suggest a demographic shift in forest structure over the last century toward smaller trees (<30 cm diameter at breast height) and at the expense of larger trees (>60 cm). These large tree declines were more severe in areas experiencing greater increases in climatic water deficit since the 1930s, echoing results found elsewhere in the American West. This work demonstrates another critical element in my research and outreach platform: the importance of open data and building frameworks for data sharing. My work developing data sharing frameworks such as Cal-Adapt.org, LandCarbon.org, and the Berkeley EcoInformatics Engine (HOLOS) are part of this research, as is the new NSF Data Science for the 21st century training grant awarded to UC Berkeley in 2014.