Using statistical models to understand forest growth and the prediction of its resources

After an ordinary day of work, you fetch a pizza to go in a cardboard box and take the biodiesel bus to join your cover band, where you rock on with your glossy- looking guitar. The two-hour playing practice tires your vocals and you sit on a timber-made stool and drink some tap water in a paper cup. These actions seem harmless to the environment at first, but let’s look at your carbon footprint:

To make the products you’re using, trees were cut down, thus preventing them from converting the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugar and oxygen (O2) – one of nature’s best-known processes: photosynthesis. The wood was processed further, receiving other energy inputs in order to provide you with a cardboard box, paper cup, a guitar and a stool. To balance out your fairly troubling carbon footprint, you cleverly chose to use public transportation, which is nobly fueled by bio sources. Another smart approach was to consume water not from plastic bottle but a pipe supply, avoiding unnecessary plastic production, CO2 emission and more waste.

How far can mankind continue exploiting wood – a precious natural resource -- without having a genuine discussion of the problem behind it? This is an easy answer!

In what conditions will we find our forests in the future? How much can a certain type of forest grow in 50 years? What is the volume of wood that can be harvested during a given period of time without undermining future generations? How much carbon can a forest store as it grows, a process that combats global warming? These are way more difficult questions!

The aim of my PhD is to help find answers for some of the above questions and many more. In order to construct future possible scenarios, I develop statistical models that will be used for forest growth prediction. These models take into consideration not only the dynamics of the forest itself, but also evaluate the most sustainable ways of harvesting it. In addition, we want to study the uncertainties related to such forecasts.

So buddy: What do you do on a daily basis to diminish forest misuse, air pollution and your carbon footprint?

I am Lara Melo, a PhD student working in the Lerfob (Laboratoire d’Étude des Ressources Forêts-Bois). My lab is linked to the University of Lorraine and the INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique). My project is funded by the Brazilian scholarship program “Science without Borders.”

Text by Fernanda Haffner

Illustration by Luis Rubio