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New NSF grant to explore climate change and decision making

posted May 3, 2016, 7:52 AM by   [ updated May 4, 2016, 6:29 PM by Melissa Lucash ]

Dr. Scheller and Dr. Lucash received an NSF grant to understand how indigenous communities make forest management decisions under climate change and options to improve the process. We will integrate the latest generation of landscape modeling with virtual reality. Imagine watching the world change all around you!

Overall funding is $1.7 M with $320,000 directly to PSU.

The details:


CNH-L: Visualizing Forest Futures Under Climate Uncertainty: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Decision Support Tools for Collaborative Decision Making

Erica Smithwick (PI); Co-PIs: Alex Klippel, Christopher Caldwell, Nancy Tuana, Robert Scheller; Senior Personnel: Rebecca Bird, Melissa Lucash, Robert Nicholas, Klaus Keller

Working with communities of the Menominee Tribal Nation, this project will unravel how human values and practices determine preferences about natural systems and influence the trade-offs made in decision-making about forest resources and sustainability.  Traditional knowledge from indigenous cultures is recognized as important in U.S. climate change assessments but has not been adequately captured in landscape level planning.  Moreover, forests managed by Tribal communities are under threat from increasing insect damage, which is already the most spatially extensive forest disturbance in North America, affecting approximately 20 million hectares of forest per year with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. Climate variability and change is projected to increase the frequency, size and severity of insect outbreaks, and significantly impact forest species composition in the region. These changes, which will impact the forest industry upon which the community depends and could alter Tribal identity. The project will use state-of-the-art visualization and virtual reality experiences about future forest conditions to access a broader range of human values about scenarios of future forest conditions.  These outcomes will be used to model preferences in forests management activities and determine trade-offs and synergies among economic and other value-based decisions about forest management, even under uncertainty. Undergraduate students at College of Menominee Nation will be trained in virtual reality software and modeling about forest change through an REU experience, and two graduate students and two post-doctoral scholars will be trained in interdisciplinary science through this project. The project will promote collaborations among educators, scientists, managers in the region and will inform ongoing national-level climate change assessment activity focused on indigenous peoples and tribal knowledge.

The project employs anthropological, ethical, process-based, and immersive means to explore complex decision spaces under uncertainty and to evaluate trade-offs among diverse objectives. The project asks how forest disturbances and ecosystem services are influenced by future climate variability, and how human values and customary practices influence preferences in forest structure and function.  Hypotheses are that immersive virtual reality (iVR) can enhance emotive and cognitive perceptions of these changes, and that current management activities can be refined through the incorporation of value structures into a robust decision making analysis. Values and practices will be incorporated into consensus mental models which will inform iVR and ecosystem modeling, and enhance a decision support algorithm to assess trade-offs in outcomes. The iVR experiences will include interactive 2D and 3D landscape maps, 360-degree depictions of alternative forest structures, and interactive maps through time. The decision analytics approach will analyze trade-offs across a broad set of sustainability metrics, and test the performance of alternative strategies under uncertain future conditions, and given boundary conditions. The project will characterize and tradeoffs and synergies among competing values that reflect both cultural, ecological and economic well-being and the determination of what choices lead to sustainable solutions.