Oregon State University has received a five-year, $4 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to investigate increasing impacts of drought, insect attacks and fires on forests in the western U.S., and to project how the influence of climate change may affect forest die-offs in the future. Researchers will also enhance an earth system model to help them predict a forests vulnerability to physiological stress and create strategies to minimize the impact of climate, insects and fire.

“The western United States has gone through two decades of devastating forest loss and we don’t even fully know why it happened, much less how to predict these events,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU and a principal investigator on the grant.

Other lead investigators from OSU on the project include Beverly Law, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society; and Andrew Plantinga, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics.

Some of the project’s goals are to:

• Improve the ability of a leading land surface model to predict tree mortality

• Map the vulnerability of western forests to mortality under present and future climate conditions, particularly in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho

• Apply forest vulnerability data to forest sector models to help land managers better predict ecological and economic outcomes, including timber production, forest recreation and water use.

Researchers will run computer models that utilize a crowd-sourced computing effort called Weatherathome.net as part of the study, through which a network of volunteers will use their home computers to run climate model scenarios. This type of network can equal or exceed the output of a supercomputer.

The OSU grant is part of the inter-agency Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models Program, which is coordinated by the National Science Foundation and includes USDA and the Department of Energy.

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