The Forest for the Trees: New Device Tells Scientists About Climate Effects

21 January, 2019

A device called a TreeTalker is providing information about trees to people who oversee forests and woodlands.

The device aims to measure the growth and general health of trees.

Scientists say the new technology is important because trees are believed to be under increasing stress because of changes in the world's climate.

Scientists say forests are important because they absorb, or take in, carbon dioxide. It is one of the gases released by burning oil and other fossil fuels.

Studies show that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas. It has been linked to a general warming in the Earth's atmosphere.

Antonio Brunori is Secretary-General of PEFC Italy. PEFC is short for the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification. The organization says it works to support good methods for overseeing and developing forest resources.

Brunori says the world is at a historic period for climate change because the scientific world is on guard. He added that many scientists say ‘Be careful, the ecosystem of the forests is not able anymore, as it was before, to absorb all this carbon dioxide.'

Rising temperatures, Brunori noted, are placing forests under increased stress. He said that harmful insects and diseases are becoming more of a threat to trees.

This is bad for the environment, but also bad for the timber industry.

The TreeTalker devices serve as an early warning system for people overseeing forests. Brunori said TreeTalker turns "eco-physiological signals, such as growth, absorption of carbon dioxide, liquid flow from roots to leaves – into scientific information."

This information can help show if a tree is under attack from insects or other organisms.

The TreeTalker sends its information to forest managers.

Riccardo Valentini invented the new device. He also is head of the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change.

"The TreeTalker device transmits data via radio and it can transmit data actually a very long distance, up to one kilometer," Valentini said.

The information lets forestry officials take action immediately to control threats.

The TreeTalker is able to measure the width of the bottom of a tree. Timber industry workers can use this information to know how much wood they are growing compared to how much they are harvesting.

Another goal is to give scientists the information they need to understand how climate affects forests and the part trees play in a healthy environment.

"So forests are important, and forests are made by trees. So we need to study the individuals to understand the forest," Valentini added.

About 300 TreeTalker devices are being tested in Italy and other countries, such as China and Russia.

Valentini expects another 1,700 devices to be tested worldwide this year.

I'm Mario Ritter Jr.

Steve Baragona reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

ecosystem – n. everything that exists in a particular environment

stress – n. a physical or chemical force that causes something to become tense or weak

resource - n. something that provides a supply of something or support

timberadj. of or related to growing trees or their wood

physiological – adj. related to the science of how living things operate

transmit – v. to send in the form of electrical signals

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