28 September 2007

Managing 'Kyoto Forests'

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In the attempt to reduce pollution, the representatives of the most industrialised countries in Europe have agreed upon the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes quotas on gas release

In the attempt to reduce pollution, the representatives of the most industrialised countries in Europe have agreed upon the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes quotas on gas release and supports the plantation as well as the preservation of forests.

Trees play an important role in the survival of the ecosystem, providing homes and nourishment to millions of animal and plant species. They produce oxygen - essential to life - and also absorb the carbon dioxide ejected by our cars and factories which can seriously damage the health of the planet.

This is why it is important to monitor the health status of our forests, which means thousands of square kilometres, and millions of trees to care of. How is it possible to do that? The answer has come from a European team of engineers and researchers who have developed a new tool for monitoring all of the forested areas in Europe. The name of the tool is FOREMMS.

FOREMMS is a database, which collects pictures and measurement data from different sources: satellites, airplanes, ground sensors and forest rangers. Every few years, rangers measure the trunks and the height of all of the trees in a forest as well as their position, and enter this data into the FOREMMS device. Pictures of the forest and pollution variables are taken from airplanes and ground sensors to be sent to the same central computer unit which also retrieves high-definition images from satellites.

The tool is then able to compare and put together all of this data to provide information about the forests: have the trees grown and if so, how much? Is there any evidence of fire? Are there new trees or plants?

All these questions and many others can be answered by the FOREMMS database. As Rognes emphasises “FOREMMS could be an important tool for Environment Ministers throughout Europe as forests are actually increasing in size and agriculture is getting smaller.”

Environment Officers near Krakow, Poland, have been using FOREMMS for the monitoring of the local woods in Niepolomice. This area used to be affected by high rates of pollution, because of the huge amount of dust ejected from the iron and steel compound in Nowa Huta nearby. Until fifteen years ago, trees were dying and all of the surroundings were declining. Now, pollution is reduced, and Niepolomice looks healthier. This is what has been shown by FOREMMS monitoring.

The Polish woods were chosen by the FOREMMS researchers for those particular startling conditions. But this was not the only reason. In order to check the efficiency of FOREMMS at a European level, the researchers needed to repeat the trials with all types of European forests - northern boreal coniferous forests (Finland), continental temperate mixed forests (Poland) and Mediterranean dry forests (Italy).

With this project the European Union aims to implement another initiative in defence of the environment. All European countries support the Kyoto Protocol, and FOREMMS represents a commitment by Europeans to reduce pollution. As the Norwegian Project Manager Anders Rognes states: “…if you plan more forests, you can have more traffic on the roads and in the same time be within the limits of the Kyoto Protocol.”

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