Our $6 Mio NSF EPSCOR grant “Leveraging Intelligent Informatics and Smart Data for Improved Understanding of Northern Forest Ecosystem Resiliency (INSPIRES)” has been approved for funding this August. The grant is led by Aaron Weiskittel, Umaine Forestry, and includes colloboration with the University of New Hampshire and Vermont.

Dr. Nittel is Senior Personnel in the Environmental Informatics and Advancing sensing research areas.

INSPIRE Scope:

Forests are an economically important and ecologically critical component of New England’s working landscape. Local and regional communities depend on the health of these forest ecosystems to support biodiversity, conservation, recreation, and a forest-based workforce. New England’s forests are also highly dynamic and diverse due to a wide variety of complex factors, including changing environmental conditions, varying management objectives across Federal, state and private land ownership, and natural disturbances. Despite advances in technology and the better acquisition of forest-related information, critical forest data remains highly varied, inconsistently available, and relatively coarse in scale.

The INSPIRES project will leverage expertise and facilities across the University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, and University of Vermont campuses to build a digital framework that will better assess, understand, and forecast complex forest changes. The integration of emerging computational, monitoring, remote sensing, and visualization technologies into a Digital Forest Big Data framework will provide comprehensive, near real-time spatial and temporal measurements of the forest at levels readily usable by scientists, land managers, and policy makers. Another objective of this project is to strengthen workforce development and broaden participation in STEM education, particularly among students with diverse backgrounds and skills.

The project will accomplish both its digital and educational aims by drawing from a broad array of established programs and disciplines, including data science, ecology, electrical engineering, computer programming, and communications. Furthermore, faculty and students will collaborate on the development of a regional Complex Systems Research Institute that will facilitate ongoing analysis of forest ecosystem integrity and resilience from multiple scientific perspectives. Ultimately, this Big Data Framework integrating advanced sensing and computing technologies, environmental informatics and analytics, ecological modeling, and quantitative reasoning skills would be applicable to other forested regions and ecosystems. Most importantly, this effort will help support and sustain northern New England’s unique forested landscape, which many rural communities rely on for their livelihoods.

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