22 June 2011

Forests and Water, part 0

Yes, indeed, I did post on forests and water earlier this year for World Wetlands Day.  This series is connected, in some ways, to things that I wrote there. This is also still the UN International Year of Forests.  And last, but not least, a big chunk of Arizona is still burning...

In 2009, while working at the University of Arizona (UA), I co-authored with a colleague at Northern Arizona University (NAU) a funding proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF). We submitted our project proposal with the enthusiastic support of several more colleagues at NAU and UA. Eventually, after at least two rounds of review, our proposed project was declined funding.  However, that decision does not detract from the validity of the review and research material that I'll recount here. On the contrary, given that this was my own first proposal to NSF, I thought we did pretty well!

The cross-cutting NSF program to which we submitted this proposal is called "Community-based Data Interoperability Networks (INTEROP)."  This post, derived from what is essentially the proposal cover page, provides some context and background on our stated purposes and overall objectives in the proposal submission. More substantive material from the proposal text will follow immediately in Part 1 of this "Forests and Water" series.

An Interoperable Community System for the Monitoring of Forest Hydrology, Health and Wildfire Susceptibility in the Southwestern U.S.

Project Overview
We seek to aid ongoing efforts at adaptability and resilience in the forest health community by the collection and incorporation of relevant datasets and tools in appropriate physical modeling and decision support systems. We address both short-term disturbances (forest fires, meteorological drought) and long-term regime changes (climatological drought, invasive species, urban development) in forested areas. Scientists will work with forest and other resource managers in the stakeholder community to explore new and emerging predictive models and decision support tools. This project will provide data access for investigations and real-world results at the intersection of forest health, climate conditions and water supplies within watersheds. We begin with a focus in the American Southwest, but the project results will be available for application in any location of need. Community collaboration and information interoperability tools will be provided through an established web portal to support decisionmaking processes related to forest, fuels, wildfire and water resource management.

Intellectual Merit
The proposed work embraces challenges and opportunities on several levels by bringing together the disciplines of computer science, informatics, physical process modeling, data visualization, remote sensing, forest health, water resources management, climatology and meteorology, ecology, and hydrology. On the technical level we will adopt metadata, data exchange and data access standards that are consistent, and therefore interoperable, with the larger community of practice in each of these fields. For incorporation of various components, it is desirable to understand at the deepest levels both the physical processes and stakeholder values toward which decision-making is oriented; the highest level of service thus provides seamless interoperability between data sets, analysis tools, physical models, and the decision-making community. This is the level of “decision support” where leadership, analytical capability, interpersonal communication, consensus-building, and mastery of the computational tools and data sources at hand become most useful and, yet, most transparent while maintaining spatial and geographical context for the community of stakeholders and their value choices.

Broader Impacts
The condition of a forested watershed has a direct impact on the quantity and quality of water that is available for human and ecosystem uses. Various aspects of the forest ecosystem affect the partitioning of precipitation to runoff, streamflow and groundwater recharge. Recent trends toward larger and more severe forest fires in the western U.S. indicate a threat to the sustainability of forests in semi-arid environments where the ecosystems might have adapted to natural fire regimes. However, historical policies of fire suppression and now climate change have combined to threaten vast areas of the American West, and we endeavor to help mitigate such threats by supporting the decision-making processes that retain the best interests of both ecological condition and the various communities of practice involved.

More to come!

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