Digital twins for understanding forest disturbances and recovery from space

(22-02-2022) Prof. Kim Calders is one of the 397 early-career researchers that won a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant with his project SPACETWIN.

Forests worldwide are undergoing large-scale and unprecedented changes in terms of structure and species composition due to anthropogenic disturbances, climate change and other global change drivers. Climate, disturbances and forest structure are all closely linked: changes in climate can lead directly to physical changes in forest structure and vice versa or to an anticipated increase in forest disturbances. However, it is still uncertain how forest structure is impacted by disturbances (locally) and how we can detect and monitor various levels of disturbance regimes using spaceborne satellite data (globally).

With this project SPACETWIN, Kim Calders will focus on the impact of drought, fire and logging disturbances across a range of tropical and temperate forest ecosystems. He will use radiative transfer and earth observation (proximal & remote sensing) methods, with a strong focus on 3D and 4D monitoring of structural dynamics of these forests. It will lead to a step-change in our ability to observe, quantify and understand forest disturbances and recovery by using time series of the most detailed structural and radiometric 3D forest models ever built: 'digital twin' forests. The innovations within this project will open a realm of untapped research questions and applications that call for the most detailed 3D information on canopy structure possible. The anticipated outcomes of SPACETWIN are also urgently needed to reduce uncertainties and advance the forecasting of carbon stocks and dynamics within the context of the IPCC.

This is the second prestigious ERC Starting Grant for the UGent-based research group CAVElab after Prof. Hans Verbeeck successfully secured an ERC StG for his project TREECLIMBERS (2015-2020).