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Scientists Are Making Artificial Ice Storms

To better understand how they damage forests, and to prepare for a future of more extreme weather events.

by Grennan Milliken
Dec 14 2016, 11:00am

Image: National Science Foundation/Twitter

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of catastrophic weather events in the coming years. Regardless of how much carbon we can stop from churning into the atmosphere, a certain amount of the globe is going to change anyway due to the carbon we've already put up there. So while some scientists are figuring out how to lower our emissions, other scientists are trying to find ways for us to deal with the impending weather extremes. But first they need to learn all the ins and outs of how these storms work.

Syracuse University bio-geochemist Charley Driscoll and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service ecologist Lindsey Rustad are trying to understand the ways that ice storms—winter hazards of the Northeast and Midwest United States—damage forest environments, and how those environments recover from such a devastating blow. Rather than waiting around for nature to deliver an ice storm, however, they created their own. The National Science Foundation, who funded the research, released a video that documents the storm brewing action.

In snowy conditions, the team of researchers blasted forest plots with water in New Hampshire's Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Two little tractors carrying water hoses puttered through the snow on either side of the plots—each about the size of a basketball court—while researchers in rubber clothes sprayed freezing water a hundred feet in the air. In a fine mist, the water floated down upon trees and shrubs, and froze on contact.

These weather storms can have long lasting ecological and socio-economic impacts on forest ecosystems like increasing the risk of fire, disrupting carbon cycling, and more, so in the coming years the team is going to continue studying how the forest responds to the damage.

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