Measuring Trees Via Satellite Actually Takes A Great Deal Of Field Work

Figuring out what the Earth’s climate is going to do at any given point is a difficult task. To know how it will react to given events, you need to know what you’re working with. This requires an accurate model of everything from ocean currents to atmospheric heat absorption and the chemical and literal behavior of everything from cattle to humans to trees.

In the latter regard, scientists need to know how many trees we have to properly model the climate. This is key, as trees play a major role in the carbon cycle by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen plus wood. But how do you count trees at a continental scale? You’ll probably want to get yourself a nice satellite to do the job.

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Singapore Branches Out Into Internet Of Trees

Five years ago, a 38-year-old woman was enjoying an outdoor concert with her family with one of her twin infants in her arms. In the week prior, it had been windy and rainy, but today, the weather was nice, and the concert was crowded. Without warning, a 270-year-old tembusu tree fell on the woman, pinning and ultimately killing her after the other concertgoers couldn’t remove it in time. This tragedy happened in spite of twice-yearly inspections where the tree showed no visual signs of trouble.

It’s exactly this type of incident that Singaporean officials hope to avoid by building an Internet of Trees. The equatorial island nation is home to roughly 5.5 million people, and around 7 million trees — about 6 million of which are tracked by Singapore’s National Parks Board, so that they can be managed remotely with an app. (The Board only tracks trees once they’ve reached a certain size, so we’ll assume that the other million are too young to join the fun just yet.)

While tree-triggered deaths are fairly few and far between, there are plenty of other ‘tree incidents’ that can occur, such as a branch falling, or a tree trunk snapping or uprooting. Depending on the size of the branch, this can be a dangerous nuisance as it could block roads, obscure signage, or destroy property. Thanks to the efforts of the National Parks Board, these incidents have dropped from around 3,000 per year at the turn of the millennium to under 500 per year today.

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Procedurally Generated Trees

As the leaves fall from the trees here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are greeted with a clear view of the branches and limbs that make up the skeleton of the tree. [Nicolas McDonald] made a simple observation while looking at trees, that the sum of the cross-sectional area is conserved when a branch splits. This observation was also made by Leonardo Da Vinci (according to Pamela Taylor’s Da Vinci’s Notebooks). Inspired by the observation, [Nicolas] decided to model a tree growing for his own curiosity.

The simulation tries to approximate how trees spread nutrients. The nutrients travel from the roots to the limbs, splitting proportionally to the area. [Nicolas’] model only allows for binary splits but some plants split three ways rather than just two ways. The decision on where to split is somewhat arbitrary as [Nicolas] hasn’t found any sort of rule or method that nature uses. It ended up just being a hardcoded value that’s multiplied by an exponential decay based on the depth of the branch. The direction of the split is determined by the density of the leaves, the size of the branch, and the direction of the parent branch. To top it off, a particle cloud was attached at the end of each branch past a certain depth.

By tweaking different parameters, the model can generate different species like evergreens and bonsai-like trees. The code is hosted on GitHub and we’re impressed by how small the actual tree model code is (about 250 lines of C++). The power of making an observation and incorporating it into a project is clear here and the results are just beautiful. If you’re looking for a bit more procedurally generation in your life, check out this medieval city generator.

Approaching The Drop Location: Seeds Away!

Arbor Day is a holiday many countries dedicate to planting trees, but with the steady encroachment of climate change, we need to maximize our time. Dronecoria doesn’t just plant a tree; it sows “hectares in minutes.” A hectare is 10,000 square meters or 2.471 acres. These aren’t the drones you’re looking for if you intend a weekend of gardening, this is in the scope of repopulating a forest with trees or reinvigorating a park with wildflowers. The seed balls in the hopper are 10kg of native seeds coupled with beneficial microorganisms to help the chances of each drop.

The drone’s body is laser cut from what looks like baltic birch plywood. The vector files are available in Illustrator (.ai) and CAD (.dxf) formats released under Creative Commons BY-SA, so give credit if you redistribute or remix it. In the 3D realm, you’ll need a SeedShutter and SeedDisperser, and both models are available in STL format.

We have other non-traditional seed spreading methods like canons, but it is a big job, and if you’ve build something to pitch in, drop us a tip!

A Trillion Trees – How Hard Can It Be?

Data from 2016 pegs it as the hottest year since recording began way back in 1880. Carbon dioxide levels continue to sit at historical highs, and last year the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has just 12 years to limit warming to 1.5 C.

Reducing emissions is the gold standard, but it’s not the only way to go about solving the problem. There has been much research into the field of carbon sequestration — the practice of capturing atmospheric carbon and locking it away. Often times, this consists of grand plans of pumping old oil wells and aquifers full of captured CO2, but there’s another method of carbon capture that’s as old as nature itself.

As is taught in most primary school science courses, the trees around us are responsible for capturing carbon dioxide, in the process releasing breathable oxygen. The carbon becomes part of the biomass of the tree, no longer out in the atmosphere trapping heat on our precious Earth. It follows that planting more trees could help manage carbon levels and stave off global temperature rises. But just how many trees are we talking? The figure recently floated was 1,000,000,000,000 trees, which boggles the mind and has us wondering what it would take to succeed in such an ambitious program.

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Detecting Beetles That Kill Trees, Make Great Lumber

All across southern California there are tiny beetles eating their way into trees and burrowing into the wood. The holes made by these beetles are only about 1mm in diameter, making them nigh invisible on any tree with rough bark. Trees infested with these beetles will eventually die, making this one of the largest botanical catastrophes in the state.

AmbrosaMaple
Ambrosia maple, the result of these beetles boring into maple trees. Although ambrosia maple is arguable prettier, it is significantly cheaper than hard maple, making trees infested with beetles less valuable. Image source: [ironoakrva]
For [Joan]’s project for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, she’s working on a project to detect the polyphagous shothole borer, the beetle that drills into trees and eats them from the inside out. This is a surprisingly hard problem – you can’t look at the inside of a tree without cutting it down – so [Joan] has turned to other means of detecting the beetle, including listening for the beetle’s mastications¬†with a stethoscope.

Although these ambrosia beetles will burrow into trees and kill them, there is another economic advantage to detecting these tiny, tiny beetles. The fungi deposited into these beetle bore holes make very pretty wood, but this wood is less valuable than lumber of the same species that isn’t infested with beetles. It’s a great project for the upcoming Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize, as the best solution for detecting these beetles right now is sending a bunch of grade school students into the woods.

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