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UB researchers finding new methods to test the effects of climate change

Two men stand among trees
University at Buffalo
New scientific methods let researchers adjust the heat or the moisture provided to trees and see what difference it -- and, in turn, climate change -- can make.

Scientists are learning more and more about how much the fate of trees is determined by what you don't see: the moisture around the roots.

The general view is that trees are vital in cleaning the air we breathe, that the leaves absorb and store carbon for the lifetime of the tree. For the tree to live and thrive sufficient moisture at the roots is critical. Not enough and the tree will eventually die. Too much can mean the same thing.

University at Buffalo researchers Scott Mackay and Xiaonan Tai took part in a study of a forested area near Lethbridge, Alberta, looking at water flowing around the tree roots. Mckay is professor and chair of UB's Geography Department and Tai is now at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, after finishing her doctorate at UB.

Mackay said new scientific methods let researchers adjust the heat or the moisture provided to trees and see what difference it makes, with the expectation of rising heat with climate change.

"You can put the trees within chambers," Mackay said. "They're enclosed around but open at the top. But inside the chamber, you actually can elevate their temperature. So you can actually mimic the effects of increased temperature and decreased water on those trees."

This study and many others are part of a vast study of the climate, requiring supercomputers to put together the data.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.