Helping forests gain high ground on climate change

Forestry study among six projects to go ahead with $2.9M in new funding from NSERC.


While attending a European conference last year, two University of Alberta forestry graduate students sat in on a presentation about how researchers in Italy developed a new technique for doing research using tree rings. The students, David Montwe and Miriam Isaac-Renton, immediately recognized the promise of this approach in similar work being done back home.

A year later, the federal government announced $302,000 over three years for a U of A climate change study based on that new method. The researchers will look at the risks lodgepole pine and white spruce face due to the warming of their environment. It will also determine how far north and how much higher in elevation the forestry industry can move those tree populations to help them thrive, without running the risk of severe frost damage they are not adapted to withstand.

Essentially, when a wood stain is applied to a tree-ring core, it leaves unique blue ring “signatures” whenever the tree suffered frost damage while laying down a new tree ring. From those signature stains, researchers were able to date the history of damage in trees that have been grown for decades in test plantations where seeds were transferred from warmer regions. 

“Specifically, we’re looking for lower and upper limits to seed transfer,” said Andreas Hamann, a forest geneticist from the Department of Renewable Resources who will lead the study. “We need to research the frost tolerance limits of trees to withstand rare cold events that they may encounter in these environments at present.”

Lodgepole pine and white spruce are being studied because they are the most important sources of wood and fibre for Western Canada, worth approximately $10 billion annually in economic activity.

Hamann’s study is one of six at the U of A worth $2.9 million over three years funded by NSERC through its Strategic Partnership Grants for Projects program. Other U of A projects include:

  • Robert Hayes, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, $434,000,
    Development of advanced particulate filters for automotive applications

  • Ray DeCorby, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, $534,000,
    An integrated platform for quantum networks

  • Qingxia Liu, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, $445,800,
    Nano-reactive oily bubbles for enhancing fine particle flotation by agglomeration

  • Roger Zemp, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, $751,667,
    Fast MEMS focusing systems

  • Sina Ghaemi, Department of Mechanical Engineering, $417,000,
    Endurance increase of autonomous underwater vehicles using polymeric coating technology for effective Arctic seabed exploration and monitoring

—With files from Michael Brown