Cold Hard Facts

January 2022

Winter and science have us thinking about “Cold Hard Facts”. In January we feature a quantitative ecologist who’s love of statistics serves her well in her work on maintaining the integrity of long-term data from experimental forests, and a collaboration between the Northern Research Station's Forest Inventory and Analysis Program and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that led to development of a new tool for rapid storm damage assessment.

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Nina Lany

Nina Lany.

Quantitative Ecologist, Nina Lany didn’t grow up spending much time out in the woods and when she entered college, she chose to study literature and languages. But after several years of working in Outdoor and Environmental Education and backpacking trips as a young adult she was hooked on nature. “While travelling and backpacking abroad in my early twenties I was asked 'Do you eat this mushroom in your country' or 'Do you use the wood of this tree to build houses?' and I was surprised by how much I wanted to be able to answer these questions,” said Lany.

Lany studied Natural Science at Lyndon State College (Lyndonville, Vermont) and although she initially chose to take her required math classes early to get them out of the way, she found she loved calculus and statistics.  “In statistics I found a powerful tool for inference,” said Lany. “To understand statistics and logic is to understand how we acquire new scientific knowledge.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Lany taught math and science for several years at the high school and community college level before enrolling in a PhD program to be able to switch from teaching to research. She completed a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH) in 2014 and was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Forestry at Michigan State University before joining the Forest Service as a Quantitative Ecologist in 2019.

As a member of the Northern Forest Science and Applications research work unit, Lany works extensively with long-term hydrological, meteorological, and biological data from some of the Experimental Forests that the Northern Research Station oversees. 

“I’m excited about developing quantitative methods for maintaining the integrity of these long-term records as we transition from older, mechanical instruments to modern, electronic sensors at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire and at the Marcell Experimental Forest in Minnesota,” said Lany. “These data have been highly influential in shaping scientific knowledge and environmental policy, and a robust modernization effort is critical.”

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FIA Develops a Rapid Assessment Method to Deliver Fast Answers to Questions About Storm Damage

Derecho damaged forest land near Cedar Rapids, Iowa as seen from aerial survey plane. Photo courtesy of Iowa DNR.Tornados, ice storms, and derechos all take a toll on forests. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns shift in response to a changing climate, severe weather events are projected to increase in frequency, and so too does the potential for damage and mortality in forest. Working in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Northern Research Station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program developed a new technique for rapidly assessing forest damage.

To obtain reliable estimates of tree damage following a storm, remeasurement of forest plots post-storm provides the most accurate data. Thomas Goff, a forester with the Northern Research Station explains that in many cases, waiting to remeasure forest plots to assess tree damage is not a viable option. “Given that plots are revisited over a 7-year time period, it could be years after the event before a remeasurement occurs,” Goff said. “Emergency responders, insurance adjusters and officials working to determine appropriate levels of emergency funding from government agencies all need a more rapid assessment of damage.”

The Midwest Derecho of August 10-11, 2020, produced powerful straight-line winds and traveled 770 miles across Iowa and adjacent states. The storm damaged structures, crops, and trees and knocked out electrical power for over 1 million people. It was the most expensive thunderstorm-related event since 1980. In response to a need for fast yet reliable estimates of damage to Iowa forest resources, researchers combined pre-disturbance forest inventory data with post-disturbance aerial survey to produce estimates of affected forest land area, and numbers of trees and total volume with new damage or mortality likely caused by the derecho.

The FIA assessment estimated that 2.67 million trees and 1.67 million m3 of sound bole volume were damaged or killed by the 2020 derecho. This study originated with the need for preliminary results so that Iowa officials could meet obligations for emergency funding following the August 2020 storm. 

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Last updated: 12/27/2021