Image credit A. Goodson https://www.agoodson.com/andy-potts-illustrating-complex-scientific-concepts-for-bbc-focus/
In the past few posts (four of them in the series Forest for the Trees), I discussed low-tech ways that we can assist nature in fixing climate change. Most of these posts dealt with ways to prevent the loss of trees – for example, doing a better job of policing illegal logging - as well as an a better understanding of – and use of – symbiosis between tree roots and mycorrhiza.
In this brief post, I go to the other extreme and discuss much higher-tech, proactive steps that some scientists are considering to take action on climate change.
Some of this may be of higher urgency based on a recent report. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/148cb0_a1406e0143ac4c469196d3003bc1e687.pdf
If you are thinking this is from a radical organization such as Greenpeace, you’re quite wrong. One of the authors, Ian Dunlop, was senior Executive of Royal Dutch Shell for many years and chaired the Australian Coal Associations (1987-88). See his profile here: https://www.clubofrome.org/member/ian-t-dunlop/
I’ll likely blog about this report – and the reaction to it - in June so stay tuned. But now, back to the idea of fixing climate change. This article on the BBC News homepage, and this one from TechCrunch also caught my attention. Below is a good abstract from the BBC News story:
Scientists in Cambridge plan to set up a research centre to develop new ways to repair the Earth's climate. It will investigate radical approaches such as refreezing the Earth's poles and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The centre is being created because of fears that current approaches will not on their own stop dangerous and irreversible damage to the planet. The initiative is the first of its kind in the world and could lead to dramatic reductions in carbon emissions.
The to-be-established “Centre for Climate Repair” – the establishment of which certainly constitutes a project, one which immediately drew detractors. BusinessGreen magazine says: “some environmental campaigners remain fiercely opposed to the concept and today attacked the new centre's focus on unproven geoengineering fixes, arguing they distract from the urgent necessity to enact the social, technological, and political change necessary to cut carbon emissions.”
Greenpeace is indeed one of those voices. To read their objections to the ideas (and even the rationale), go here.
That said, let’s have a look at what this new Centre would be researching as programs and projects. I’m going to mainly do this with pictures (credit to the BBC News site referenced above, of course), because, as you know, a picture is worth a whole bunch of words.
Refreezing the poles
The idea is to pump seawater up to tall masts through very fine nozzles (creating a mist) using purpose-built ‘drone’ ships This misting action produces tiny particles of salt which, when they reach the clouds, ‘strengthens’ the cloud cover, making it more reflective, and increasing its ability to cool the areas below them.
This is mainly about CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), a topic on which I’ve blogged previously.
This is mainly about fertilizing the sea with iron salts (rusts) which promote the growth of plankton.
If you put your project management hat on, and think about secondary risk. Do these activities pose a threat, in terms of what they may do to the environment beyond the intended result? I personally think there is nothing wrong with researching these ideas (with secondary risk in mind) and in parallel looking at ways to reduce the production of greenhouse gasses and pollutants.
What do you think?
This is the fourth and final (for now) post about forests. This topic just continued to (bad pun warning) branch out on me.
You’ve heard of a negative feedback loop or a death spiral? You’ve probably seen them in your projects. Here's an example: There is pressure to get things done faster, so you have the team work overtime, there is team member burnout. You also try fast-tracking (doing things in parallel that best practice tells you should be done in sequence), leading to further slips in the schedule and increased costs, which causes further pressure to cut corners, do more fast-tracking, more overtime, which causes more slippage …. Yep, you recognize this - a death spiral.
Well, it’s the same thing with ectomycorrhizal fungi.
Yes: ectomycorrhizal fungi are an example of a fungal symbiont – a fungus which coats the outside of root branches of trees, exchanging carbon to the tree, in exchange for sugars. Symbiosis. A win-win situation.
The general term for these fungi are mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are those that form a symbiotic relationship with plants. There are two main groups of mycorrhizal fungi: arbuscular fungi (AM) that penetrate the hosts's roots, and ectomycorrhizal fungi (EM) which surround the tree's roots without penetrating them. See below for a photo of this partnership.
From a recent article in Nature magazine, EM fungi, mostly present in temperate and boreal systems, help lock up more carbon from the atmosphere. They are more vulnerable to climate change. You can see in the chart below that the EM fungi live in areas of colder (but potentially warming) climate. They have a much slower carbon cycle, therefore are much better at storing carbon in the ground long-term. AM fungi, more dominant in the tropics, promote fast carbon cycling.
According to the research, 60% of trees are connected to EM fungi, but, as temperatures rise, these fungi - and their associated tree species - will decline and be replaced by AM fungi.
In other words, the types of fungi that support huge carbon stores in the soil are being lost and are being replaced by the ones that spew out carbon in to the atmosphere. And the continued rise will continue that decrease of the longer-term carbon storage – you see it now, I hope – a death spiral.
From a recent article in Nature magazine - If there isn't a reduction in carbon emissions by 2100, there could be a 10% reduction in EM - and the trees that depend on them. The results of this finding can now serve as a basis for restoration efforts such as the UN's trillion tree campaign by informing which types of tree species, depending on their associated mycorrhizal network, to plant in what particular area of the world.
In addition to the article in Nature, a related story on BBC’s Science Hour, entitled “The World Wide Web” (podcast audio here), discusses this in great detail, and in fact, the video below is a great summary.
The interesting side story here is that the fungi that is involved in symbiosis with the trees also allows a sort of tree-internet (a Wood Wide Web) to exist, in which trees are interconnected via the fibers of the fungi. I won’t go into detail, but you really should watch the video below by scientist Susanne Simard, and if for no other reason than comedy, you should follow it immediately with the clip from the movie Avatar.
TED Talk Susanne Simard
I found this fascinating from a science standpoint but also a project standpoint. The mapping project, the trillion tree initiative, the research projects by Susanne Simard – they are all at the intersection of sustainability and PM. If you want to learn more of the science, I provide these additional readings:
An academic paper on the storage capability of CO2 by mycorrhizal fungi
An article describing the Wood Wide Web
In the first two parts of this series, I’ve talked about the immense contribution forests make to sequestering carbon and in helping to mitigate climate change. And in Part 1 it was pointed out that although we want to do more to help promote forest growth, it should be intuitively obvious that First deforestation must stop.
But it’s not that easy.
A fascinating article in the April 2019 issue of Nature, with the intriguing title “Cops and Loggers” talks about the drama – and the science – and the projects initiated– around policing deforestation.
It starts with a story of international mystery involving Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Madagascar, China, and Oregon in the US.
The scene of the crime turned out to be Madagascar. What happened here was that a shipment of almost 4000 rosewood logs (28 shipping containers worth!) were on their way to Hong Kong from (ostensibly) Tanzania, when they arrived at Sri Lank in transit. There, customs officers had been tipped off by Interpol that these particular logs had been cut not in Tanzania, but instead were a different species, one illegal to export, from Madagascar.
Indeed, the Sri Lankan customs authorities sent samples of the wood to a testing lab in Oregon which was equipped with a $200,000 mass spectrometer. This new weapon in the battle against illegal logging, under the supervision of the Wildlife Service Forensics Lab in Ashland Oregon were able to quickly determine that the species of wood was not from Tanzania but from Madagascar. The Chinese seller of these logs was found to be in violation of the law.
Interpol estimates that between 15 and 30% of the global timber trade is in violation of either national laws or international treaties, and it’s not evenly spread across countries. From the Nature article, “for countries such as Democratic Republic of the Conga, Laos, and Papua New Guinea, illegal timber could account for more than 70% of the nation’s production.” And the absolute numbers are huge, with the market being worth somewhere around $50B per year, give or take $40B.
The rules come from (amongst other regulations and treaties), The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), signed by 183 countries. Rosewood genus Dalbergia is on the list.
The CITES site is rich with information about importers and exporters, statistics, and because we’re project managers and just love these things, it also includes dashboards. I tried one, and easily navigated to place where I could generate up-to-date info on timber exports (see figure below).
This shows the top 10 exporters of wood.
So the scenario is this:
Good guys (nations and their laws) against bad guys (illegal loggers and their saws). What projects, tools, and techniques are the good guys using?
Thankfully, there are advances in chemical, optical, and generic fingerprinting that can make it possible, for example, to determine where a tree grew, right down to a particular PART of a particular forest. For these to work best, however, a baseline has to be generated (sound familiar?). Reference samples must be collected and stored. IN February of this year, the US and other governments have committed to supporting efforts (projects!) to collect the ‘fingerprint’ database.
There are somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 species of trees on our Earth. Doing this fingerprinting effort is a project unto itself, and creating tools that do so, yields dozens if not hundreds of others. One that caught my attention was the XyloTron (sometimes called XyloScope) which allows field identification of wood types, with a simple hand-held device connected to (and powered by) a laptop PC. You really should watch this short video by one of its inventors. Turning the device into an inexpensive and readily available product would itself be another project.
Separately, a joint project of concerned conservationists, a collaboration of the Amazon Regional Program (BMZ/DGIS/GIZ), the SINCHI Institute of Colombia and the Laboratory of Forest Products of the Brazilian Forest Service, with the cooperation of the Thunen Institute of Germany, developed a pilot of the Electronic Identification Key of Amazon Timber Species. This video from the Organização do Tratado de Cooperação Amazônica (in Spanish and Portuguese but subtitled in English) explains this project.
Want to try one of these yourself? You can (with the addition of a macro lens) download an app and go to work immediately. Check out this project from Malaysia:
See a cool video here:
Again, populating the database is key, and Kew Gardens (I’ve blogged about them before) has a program to do just that. This project is worth an entire blog post. However I will just send you to this article from the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
It’s a little like an episode of CSI Forest. There’s much more to this I haven’t even touched on here: 3D microscopes and the use of stable isotope ratio analysis – I highly recommend the article in Nature.
First of all, as we know in project management, estimation is big part of our work. I think it is 34.2228% of work. Approximately. That’s just an estimate.
As for this blog post series - I estimated this to be a 3 part series. Looks like I was optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on your viewpoint). The latest issue of Nature, which arrived as I started this post, has a cover story, Tree Dimensions. And, to top it all off, as I was realizing that there was at least one more post justified by the topic, the BBC show, “Science Hour” featured a segment called “The World Wood Web” on roughly the same topic as Tree Dimensions. So there is definitely going to be one further post on this topic – a total of four. At least, that’s my new estimate.
This post, as promised at the end of Part 1, talks a bit more about how forests play a role in sustainability. It’s a big role with a lot of big numbers, so get out your seat belts and fasten your calculators.
In the way of full disclosure, much of the inspiration for this came from a commentary piece in the April edition of Scientific American, written by Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance.
The article is called “A Low-Tech Climate Fix”. It’s a one-pager, but it’s loaded with resources.
De Groot begins by affirming that climate change is asymmetrical in its effects on the world population. It affects the world’s most vulnerable people, he says, “particularly poor rural communities that depend on the land for t heir livelihoods and coastal populations throughout the tropics”. We’ve seen this with hurricanes and floods in particular, and sea-level rise in poor island nations (we’ll see more in the next decades, but already it’s a life-threatening situation).
So how can we use forests to help?
Forests have an amazing capacity to absorb and hold (sequester is the preferred word) carbon. Forests, says de Groot, can help us achieve 37% of our climate target – limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C above benchmarked levels before the rise of industry.
A single tree can sequester an average of almost 50 pounds a year.
The policies recommended by de Groot – ones that would launch many ‘green projects’:
Why? Again, forests are capable of:
…all good things!
Despite the Bonn Challenge that I covered in the last post, not all countries are keeping their commitments. So what can we do to re-invigorate these efforts?
One technique that de Groot mentions, and on which I did a little research, is Agro-forestry.
What is this? Actually, the US Government’s USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has some very good information on this – recently updated. Have a look at these two links, if you are interested:
The basics are below (extracted from the links above if you don’t feel like following them):
Agroforestry Farming Systems
Alley cropping means planting crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature. The system can be designed to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, herbs, bioenergy feedstocks, and more.
Forest farming operations grow food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy that is managed to provide ideal shade levels as well as other products. Forest farming is also called multi-story cropping.
Silvopasture combines trees with livestock and their forages on one piece of land. The trees provide timber, fruit, or nuts as well as shade and shelter for livestock and their forages, reducing stress on the animals from the hot summer sun, cold winter winds, or a downpour.
Linear Agroforestry Practices
Riparian forest buffers are natural or re-stablished areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses. These buffers can help filter farm runoff while the roots stabilize the banks of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds to prevent erosion. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income.
Windbreaks shelter crops, animals, buildings, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income. They are also called shelterbelts, hedgerows, or living snow fences.
The article asserts that increased investment in agro-forestry could help sequester up to 9.28 gigatons (!!!) of CO2. And while accomplishing this ecological bottom line, it also doesn’t look too shabby in the economic bottom line – it would save almost $710 billion by 2050. This would also help communities work their way out of poverty. Boom! You now have the triple bottom line (TBL) effect, all through efforts to keeping and growing our forests.
Here’s an article (and a corresponding video) on one success story of an agro-forestry project from Bolivia involving cacao production.
In (approximately) Part 3, I will shift to some interesting projects surrounding enforcement of illegal logging and deforestation, featuring a cleverly-titled article from Nature magazine called “Cops and Loggers”.
(Flickr photo/Joshua Mayer)
Projects (and/or programs) are sometimes about launching new software, building bridges, or researching a new technology. Many of my most recent posts have been about the ocean – here we return to solid ground. This article is about a program to create new natural forests to store carbon.
In a recent issue of Nature, the “Comment” section is about the need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C to avoid dangerous changes in climate. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that around 73o billion tons of CO2 must be taken out of the atmosphere by the end of this century to achieve this goal.
To put this amount in context, we’re talking about an amount of CO2 equal to that produced since the industrial revolution from the following countries: The US, the UK, Germany, and China.
Using forests to sequester CO2 is not only safe and proven, it also has the benefit of providing jobs, aiding in water management, and preserving biodiversity.
First of all, and this should seem pretty obvious, if more forest is needed, deforestation must stop.
In addition, significant efforts to allow natural forestation must be launched. And one has. It’s called the Bonn Challenge (see http://www.bonchallenge.org). From their web page:
The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world's degraded and deforested lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. It is overseen by the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature as its Secretariat.
For a review of this Challenge, you can view this video:
You can look up your own country’s commitment levels by going to the “Commitments” section of the webpage. Here is the detail on the US:
But there’s a threat to this project. Half of the pledged area in the full set of commitments is set to become plantations of commercial trees, not natural forest. Plantations end up releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere approximately 15 years, as opposed to a natural forest which will sequester carbon for many decades.
Where should the forests be created? According to the article, they should be planted in the tropics and subtropics.
In Part 2, I’ll discuss the “how” of reforesting, and in Part 3 I’ll cover some of the governance (and enforcement) issues of deforestation.