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Shall develop new methods to fill the gaps in Africa's climate history


 NMBU has received funding for a project where the researchers will develop digital methods to analyze annual rings in tropical trees. The goal is to revolutionize the way we conduct climate research in the tropics.

NMBU researcher Medley Mekonen Rannestad has received funding from The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization for a new research project in dendroclimatology.

Dendroclimatology is a science where scientists use tree rings to say something about the climate of the past. The researchers aim to revolutionize the way we research climate history in the tropics.

Important method in climate research
- Dendroclimatology plays an important role in climate research, explains researcher Meley Mekonen Rannestad.
- Trees are living, breathing archives of the past, she says.

Tree growth is dictated by growing season, temperature, rainfall and the like, which in turn results in annual rings. By analyzing these, researchers can learn a lot about the climate of the past.

Dendroclimatology has been widely used in temperate and boreal regions, where environmental factors and predictable seasons result in distinct annual rings. At tropical latitudes, however, research is much more lacking because the internal structure of tree trunks is much more complex.

Knowledge of Africa's climate history is poor
- The tree rings of trees in the tropics can be quite different from those in cooler climates, comments Rannestad.
- They are often complex and difficult to interpret.

In temperate and tropical regions, the seasons are not as clearly marked as in the polar and boreal regions. During the course of a year, there can be major climate fluctuations, as a result of, for example, El Niño, drought or hurricanes, to name a few.

Thus, our knowledge of the climate history of tropical countries, especially in Africa, is poor, and the continent's climate science is, to date, the least advanced in the world.

Fills a big scientific gap
In the new project, the researchers aim to change how we analyze the tree trunks of tropical tree species. They will develop and test a new method that combines hyperspectral images and deep learning (ENG: "deep learning") to analyze the tree trunks of selected tropical tree species. The project is a collaboration between a hyperspectral imaging lab at NMBU and a laboratory in Ethiopia.

- The new method we propose could be a ground-breaker in tropical dendroclimatology, says Rannestad.
Another advantage of the method is that it is simple, it does not damage the samples, and it is effective.

- The project has the potential to overcome current methodological limitations, and fill the large geographical gap in climate information, especially in Africa, where science has come the shortest.

Future climate resilience
- NMBU is dedicated to promoting innovative research that expands the boundaries of scientific understanding and contributes to sustainable development, says NMBU's vice-rector for research, Finn-Arne Weltzien.

- This project will use modern technology to fill a global knowledge gap. It exemplifies the university's commitment in an excellent way.

- Our hope is that the project not only contributes to revolutionizing our understanding of climate history in tropical regions, but that the knowledge also increases our global climate resilience, he concludes.

About HFSP:
The Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) (link is external) supports international collaborations to carry out innovative, risky, basic research at the front lines of the life sciences. Special emphasis is placed on the support and training of independent young researchers, starting at postdoctoral level.

The program is managed by the international Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO), and is financially supported by Australia, Canada, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States.

Since 1990, more than 8,500 researchers from more than 70 countries have received support. Of these, 29 HFSO laureates have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

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