Sense, Predict, Act

Garcia River Forest Experimental Sensor Lab

Garcia River Forest Background

The Conservation Fund (TCF) purchased the Garcia River Forest –a 24,000-acre Redwood/Douglas-fir forest in northern California, roughly 100 miles north of San Francisco. The purchase of this property was motivated by a desire to prevent its fragmentation and likely conversion to vineyards or housing developments as well as a desire to help speed its recovery and restoration. The principal management challenge at Garcia River Forest in Northern California, as in many contemporary forests globally, is to balance resource use and conservation aims. This precarious equilibrium is threatened in the developing world by the dual forces of increasing population and economic development; in the developed world, previously degraded ecosystems are in need of rehabilitation while maintaining economic viability. In both cases, managers seek to maximize land productivity for the local population while maintaining a healthy natural ecosystem that will aid in climate change mitigation and sustain future resource utilization.

Creating a Living Laboratory

The Garcia River Forest in Northern California is now one of the most densely instrumented forests in the world, hosting nearly 100 sensors across a 100 square kilometer forest reserve. This test-bed sensor-network, deployed as part of PSI research and development program together with its partners NASA Ames, TCF and TNC, autonomously streams real-time data about the ecosystem to a web-based data portal. The goal of this proof of concept project is to test how the collection, integration and use of data on important ecosystem parameters can be improved to enhance our understanding of forest ecosystem behavior as well as the management of resources to facilitate optimized carbon sequestration, sustainable timber harvesting, and biodiversity enhancement. The multi-faceted instrumentation and investigation of the Garcia River Forest has already produced a wide range of critical lessons that will inform future sensor deployments, and ongoing work could have important implications for forest management practices. In addition, forest managers hope that the system will eventually provide a better understanding of CO2 distribution and track indicators of threatened ecosystems and local biodiversity. In a relatively short period of time, the sensors and the collaborative teamwork has created a valuable living laboratory in Northern California. At Garcia River Forest, a three-component system measures surface air and stream water temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, precipitation, water quality (pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, etc.), soil moisture, and ambient carbon dioxide concentrations; collects and transmits the data every half hour; and visualizes the information in an interactive, 3D platform.