UCI News

Improved land management project co-led by UCI gets $4.6 million in state funding

Data science will help identify best practices to preserve California’s forests, wildlands

February 6, 2019
Improved land management project co-led by UCI gets $4.6 million in state funding
The interdisciplinary Innovation Center for Advancing Ecosystem Climate Solutions is a three-year project with the goals of improving long-term carbon sequestration, reducing wildfire risk and bolstering resilience in the face of climate change. At stake are California’s natural resources, such as those at Yosemite National Park (shown). UC Merced

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 6, 2019 – California’s Strategic Growth Council recently approved $4.6 million for a project led by the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, Merced to develop new tools and methods for better managing the state’s forests and wildlands.

The Innovation Center for Advancing Ecosystem Climate Solutions is a three-year project with the goals of improving long-term carbon sequestration, reducing wildfire risk and bolstering resilience in the face of climate change – focused especially on California’s rural regions.

The center is headed by scientists at UCI and UC Merced, with collaborators from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford University, San Diego State University and the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as state and federal agencies.

At UCI, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from three departments – Earth system science, computer science, and civil & environmental engineering – will study and identify the most beneficial land management practices over the last few decades in terms of water conservation, forest health, fire resistance and carbon capture.

“We will use a ‘big data’ approach that analyzes observations collected by satellites since the 1980s to measure the effectiveness of thousands of past and ongoing forest treatments,” said center director Michael Goulden, UCI professor of Earth system science. “The goal is to systematically evaluate how well or poorly these efforts worked and then communicate our findings to the organizations responsible for managing our state’s natural resources.”

California’s recent drought, tree die-offs, wildfires and rising temperatures all point to the necessity of improved forest stewardship, he stressed. “Officials in the state government and agencies recognize this,” Goulden said, “but uncertainty over how to proceed has sometimes slowed progress.”

“Right now, many of California’s forests, shrub lands and grasslands are carbon sources, and we need to change them into carbon sinks,” said project collaborator Roger Bales, director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute and Distinguished Professor of engineering at UC Merced. “Our research will address information bottlenecks to guide decision-making, build local capacity for science-based land management, and develop methods for translating the benefits of land restoration into financing.”

Goulden noted that there are critical gaps in the understanding of carbon uptake by forests and the possible impacts of climate change. The project was initiated to develop new knowledge through measurements and modeling and then synthesize the resulting data to produce actionable information for stakeholders.

“This Innovation Center will target low-risk, high-yield opportunities to reduce California’s greenhouse gas contributions,” Goulden said. “We think that just a small improvement in management efficiency will have important benefits, on the order of several million metric tons of CO2 per year.”

He said the project will serve rural communities in the state by decreasing wildfire risk, protecting water resources, sustaining tourism economies, and preparing students in these areas for careers in sustainability and climate resilience.

The Strategic Growth Council funding of $4.6 million was awarded through the Climate Change Research Program, part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment– particularly in disadvantaged communities.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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