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The Future Of Ecohydrology

An expert in the global cycles of carbon and water explains how they are inextricably bound to one another and fundamental to the future of life on planet Earth.
Guest Alex Konings

Studies fundamental links between the global cycle of water percolating into the ground and evaporating into the skies and a similar cycle of carbon moving through the world, shaping ecosystems, droughts, and fires.

These cycles are inextricably bound, she says, and understanding how they function individually and in tandem is key to life on planet Earth. These important cycles may be easily overlooked but they cannot be ignored, Guest Alex Konings said.

Transcript

[00:00:00] Alex Konings: We have developed and looked at satellite data of water that’s actually held inside the plant. And we use that to sort of have an indicator of, under a given condition, how much is like that specific ecosystem, right? Because now with satellites we can have global data, how much is that specific ecosystem responding to temperature and rainfall and things like that. And how is that different between, you know, our location right here versus somewhere upstate or somewhere across the world.

[00:00:42] Russ Altman: This is Stanford Engineering’s the future of everything. And I’m your host, Russ Altman. If you enjoy the future of everything podcast, please follow or subscribe to it so that you’ll never miss the future of anything today. Alex Konings will tell us how the water in plants, the water that’s absorbed in the roots and exits through the leaves has a [00:01:00] huge influence on the amount of total water in the atmosphere, in the ground, and thereby creates huge impacts on the risk for drought and fire. Not only that, but she can measure it with satellites. It’s The Future of Plant Water. Before we jump into this episode, a request to rate and review the podcast. It will help other people discover it, and it’ll help us improve it.

[00:01:32] We all remember the basic cycle of water that we learned in grammar school. Rain falls into the ground, plants absorb the water, they grow, it comes out through their leaves. It also evaporates from the ground, it goes back into the air, where it can then rain again. That’s the basic cycle. But how does this cycle change in an era of climate change?

[00:01:55] How do plants respond to the absorption in their roots and the loss of water through their leaves when temperatures are up? Well, Professor Alex Konings from Stanford University is a professor of Earth System Science and a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and her lab studies water, in plants especially. They measure it through satellites, and it has huge implications for the risk of drought and the risk of fire.

[00:02:24] Alex, great to see you. Um, you study the interactions between global carbon and global water cycles. Can you start just by explaining what are the global carbon and water cycles?

[00:02:36] Alex Konings: You know, I like to think of the global carbon and water cycles as sort of things that are often lurking in the backgrounds of our daily lives, right?

[00:02:44] So, when we think about the global water cycle, right, that’s, uh, how water moves through the earth system or all the different parts of planet earth. And our humans, we mostly live on land and that’s actually the part that I study. So it’s really kind of trying [00:03:00] to track water from water vapor in the atmosphere, to precipitation, to how it falls and percolates in the ground, maybe down to groundwater, how plants might use that, how it might up in different places where humans can use that water, right, for water resources. And then how it might actually, it turns out that water is also, uh, super linked to sort of the weather uh, and our, our predictions of, of weather extremes.

[00:03:24] Uh, so that’s the global water cycle and global carbon cycle is sort of the ecology version of that, or a piece of ecology, right? It’s sort of trying to track carbon molecules, the things that make things alive through, again, the earth system, which includes things like soils, things like plants and the atmosphere where, you know, then, uh, as you probably know, right, if we have more carbon in certain forms of the atmosphere, that has a big effect on the climate as well. So, all of these cycles are linked, and they tend to [00:04:00] move lots of places, right, the atmosphere can move things, water can move below ground. And so, if we want to understand what’s happening at a local scale with things like water resources or, you know, we’re in California here, uh, fire risk, uh, things like that, we got to keep track of all of those interactions all across the globe.

[00:04:22] Russ Altman: Yeah. So, um, the carbon cycle was what I had never thought of it as it’s obvious when you say it, you know, the soil to plants and then maybe animals and bacteria and there is this cycle. Okay. And they’re linked, so that’s great. Thank you.

[00:04:35] So I know that one of the things you mentioned in your answer just now was plants. And I want to just highlight that because I know that you have a kind of a special focus in your work on, um, not entirely, but in a large part. And one of the words I want to get out right away, because in preparing for our conversation, is this word transpiration, which I was not familiar with. So, as I understand it, plants transpire water. Um, and can you just define that term just in case you mention it later and people need to know what it means.

[00:05:07] Alex Konings: I spend way too much time thinking about transpiration, so I probably will mention it later, but it’s near and dear to my heart. Um, so, you know, when it rains, right, water ends up in the, in the soil, um, liquid water. And, uh, that water through plants, uh, moves up from the soil, right? Roots take up water, probably familiar with this, uh, water then [00:05:30] travels through leaves. Uh, and in general, uh, the atmosphere sort of has a kind of sucking power to pull that water out of plants. Um, and, uh, when we have, uh, sunlight also, that water gets converted from the liquid phase to a gas, to water vapor. Um, and so that sucking power of the atmosphere then takes the water vapor out of the plant to the atmosphere. Uh, and that’s basically what transpiration is.

[00:05:59] And so, it’s not really something that, you know, most people think about, uh, on a regular basis. But it actually, um, is a fair amount of water that is lost that way, right? So, uh, something like 40 percent of rainfall on land ends up back in the atmosphere through transpiration.

[00:06:20] Russ Altman: I see.

[00:06:20] Alex Konings: So, coming back to your earlier question, like if you want to track where water is, uh, you know, how, where there’s maybe droughts, uh, or floods on the other side, flood risk on the other side. We got to sort of account for that transpiration just because it’s such a massive amount of water.

[00:06:36] Russ Altman: And if I understand from taking a look at some of your papers, um, when, uh, when a root system takes up water, the vast majority of it winds up transpiring and the plant itself only uses a small fraction. Is that right?

[00:06:49] Alex Konings: Yeah. So, you know, there’s some of the like photosynthesis processes and the sort of chemical processes that you might think a plant has to do, they use some water, but that’s a very, very tiny amount of the water they take up. Like you said, most of it ends up back to the atmosphere.

[00:07:04] Russ Altman: And if I’m understanding, it also means that this water, which is falling into the ground, being absorbed by the roots, it is not really available for humans to do much with. Is that, is that right?

[00:07:15] Alex Konings: That’s exactly right. So that’s one of the sort of, you know, big reasons if I can maybe extrapolate a little bit from your question, right?

[00:07:22] Russ Altman: We love extrapolation here on The Future of Everything. Yes, please.

[00:07:25] Alex Konings: Great. There’s a couple sort of reasons, um, that we care about transpiration, and you exactly hit the nail on the head, right? That’s sort of, number one is like, if we, uh, you know, humans use a ton of water for things like irrigation, drinking water, all these different uses. And so, if we’re losing all of this water that ultimately comes from rainfall to transpiration that means we can’t use it.

[00:07:48] Um, there’s kind of a couple, uh, other reasons that it matters a lot. One is that it turns out that transpiration process and then a similar process actually that happens in the [00:08:00] soil where we get water, you know, sucked from the soil to the atmosphere. That takes up a lot of energy, uh, relative to sort of how much solar energy we get at the land surface and just in the process of actually that sort of conversion from liquid to vapor. And because it takes so much energy, you know, how much transpiration you have is going to have an influence on kind of how much solar energy you have left to heat the atmosphere or heat the ground. And so, as a result, actually, that transpiration, it can have a big effect on just the evolution of our weather, right?

[00:08:35] And so, things like our weather forecasts, right? That are on everyone’s app, right? Might not think about it, but actually that depends on our ability to predict what’s happening with transpiration and evaporation at the surface.

[00:08:50] Russ Altman: So, um, what, one thing that somebody might say in response to this is that, okay, yes, the roots are absorbing a lot of water and then they’re kind of going through the root system into the atmosphere and they’re kind of lost. On the other hand, they are going into the atmosphere and so hopefully they’ll come down as rain. So, is it a real loss? And so, take me another couple of sentences of logic about why this is not just part of a cycle where it’s just going to come back, down again and we can capture it or do whatever later, or is that the wrong way to think about it?

[00:09:21] Alex Konings: No, I think that’s a, that’s absolutely a good way to think about it, but then there’s like a little bit of a rub, right? So, I think you’re absolutely right. We’re not like sending massive amounts of water to space here, right? Ultimately this is a closed system and so you’re absolutely right. Right? You know, if it ends up, uh, the water going back to the atmosphere at some point, it’ll probably rain out again. Uh, but you know, maybe that rain is somewhere else entirely, or maybe it happens all at once and most of it is immediately runs off to the ocean, uh, you know, or maybe it just takes a while and it’s, there’s a drought now, so the rub is in the exact timing and the exact numbers.

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[00:09:59] Russ Altman: Okay. So, you’ve done a great, thank you very much. We’ve now set up ourselves. We understand the basic concepts. Tell me about what is exciting to you? I know that you’re making some really amazing measurements of all this. So, take me into the, a little bit more now of a look at what your research focuses on and where the frontiers are where the most important questions that are unanswered are.

[00:10:21] Alex Konings: Yeah. So, I think you, you were able to kind of predict, uh, one of the things I think about a lot, which is transpiration. And we’ve talked about these processes, and I’ve talked a little bit about how important they are. They’re also super important for kind of drought onset. Um, and we know that transpiration has been changing a lot in part because that sort of sucking drying power that I mentioned before, that is super dependent on atmospheric temperatures. And so, with climate change and a rising temperatures, that sucking power has been increasing a lot now, you know, plants, you might have some intuition of this from just your garden or your [00:11:00] office plants or whatever, right? They need water, they don’t like drought. And so, if you have this increase in transpiration, things tend to dry out. And plants have all kind of, uh, sort of adaptive processes to deal with that, right. You mentioned roots before, right? So maybe where the roots are, how deep they are, they spread out, that transpiration process happens through these tiny little openings called stomata in the leaves. They can actually close and open and so

[00:11:28] Russ Altman: Oh, wow.

[00:11:28] Alex Konings: If they’re open, right? Yeah, so that’s like a key biological process and so that’s going to change that rate of transpiration a lot as well.

[00:11:37] Russ Altman: So, the plant can tell, the plant can tell if it’s in trouble and try to shut down a little bit of the transpiration to maintain the water.

[00:11:44] Alex Konings: That’s exactly right. And the sort of game from the plant’s point of view, if I can call it a game, I guess it’s about survival, so maybe game’s not the right word, but I will. But the game, the problem is that those stomata are also where CO2 gets into the plant for photosynthesis.

[00:12:00] Russ Altman: Ah.

[00:12:00] Alex Konings: And so there’s sort of this, you know, trade off of, do I keep my stomata open and risk you know, dying from drought or do I close them, but then, you know, I won’t be able to grow, grow as much. And so, evolution and biology is super diverse. So different species, different ecosystems, you know, when it comes to kind of quantitatively looking at how climate affects that transpiration flux. All [00:12:30] these different plants and these ecosystems behave quantitatively in totally different ways. And so, if we’re trying to understand regional or global scale patterns, if we’re trying to understand what’s going to happen to drought risk in a certain region, or what’s going to happen to fire risk in a certain region as plants dry out, we need to account for all of those differences in behavior.

[00:12:53] And kind of where my work comes in is, you know, our lab kind of says, okay, well maybe we could do this if we, like, had a map of exactly what species were everywhere and things like that. But across large regions, that’s basically impossible to get. Um, and so what we do instead is we, um, have developed and looked at satellite data of water that’s actually held inside the plant. And we use that to sort of have an indicator of under a given condition, how much is like that specific ecosystem, right? Because now with satellites, we can have global data. How much is that specific ecosystem responding to temperature and rainfall and things like that? And how is that different between, you know, our location right here versus somewhere upstate or somewhere across the world.

[00:13:48] Russ Altman: Okay, so this sounds very cool and we’re going to have to stop and I’m going to have to ask you for another tutorial, which is how does a satellite tell me about the water content of my plants?

[00:13:57] Alex Konings: Yeah. Good question. Uh, I mean, so basically, uh, so we use, uh, these, um, frequency ranges, uh, called microwaves, right? So, this is, um, long wavelengths, right, tens of centimeter, uh, wavelengths. And uh, you know, we look at, we use both radars and radiometers. So, you can imagine with a radar, right, we have some electromagnetic wave being sent out by the instrument. And, uh, because of sort of the structure of the water molecule, how much of that radiation ends up scattered back to the instrument, is much more dependent on the water than on kind of all of the other stuff. That’s like even the…

[00:14:40] Russ Altman: shape of the leaves and all, and the canopy, all of that is less.

[00:14:44] Alex Konings: It’s less important, it does matter and so that’s like a source of technical challenges.

[00:14:49] Russ Altman: Okay, okay.

[00:14:50] Alex Konings: And run for us, but the water signal is really strong. And so, ultimately, it’s strong enough that we can kind of invert for it from our measurements.

[00:14:59] Russ Altman: And so, um, what is the resolution? So, okay, you have a satellite and your point, you point a radar, a water radar down on, my term, not yours, I don’t know what you call it. Uh, you point it down, you get these signals back. Is this giving you water levels on a square kilometer, a square mile, a square meter, centimeter?

[00:15:19] Alex Konings: Um, yeah, so now we get a little, uh, so there’s sort of two answers to that, depending on which instrument we’re using. So, I mentioned radars before, radars are great coz they can give you relatively high resolution. So, uh, the data sets that we’ve produced, for example, are about 250 meter by 250 meter on a square.

[00:15:40] Russ Altman: Yeah.

[00:15:40] Alex Konings: So, you’re not going to detect individual plants, uh, but it absolutely is, uh, you know,

[00:15:45] Russ Altman: like a big city block or a big city block or a particular farm or something like that.

[00:15:51] Alex Konings: Yeah, exactly. Right, so farming especially is like something where there’s a lot of diversity. Radars are a little bit harder to tease apart that water signal from the rest of the signal that you mentioned before, you know, the shape of the leaves, the shape of the branches, things like that. Um, so with radar, we’ve had the, uh, we’ve used AI, but we can only use AI where we have sort of good on the ground data. And it turns out the water content in plants is kind of a pain to measure on the ground. Uh, like, basically, our technologies are, kind of super old school. You go and you take a sample and then you like stick it in an oven and you wait for the water to dry out in the oven, you measure the sample. So, you know, that’s a lot of work.

[00:16:36] Russ Altman: Yes.

[00:16:36] Alex Konings: And there’s not a lot of data out there. So, uh, at global scale, we use radiometers, uh, in places where we don’t have a lot of that ground data to train our radars. And there it’s much coarser. It’s about 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers or so. Which, if you’ve done it on a climate model, is still useful. Right.

[00:16:53] Russ Altman: Because at a national scale or, you know, at a big regional scale, you would need, you don’t need the same resolution.

[00:17:00] Alex Konings: Exactly.

[00:17:01] Russ Altman: So, um, on this issue of, um, measurement and you said it was hard to do on the ground. Do your radars also give you any sense of the relative humidity of the air? Because I’m guessing that this is one of the things that’s impacted because you just described this transpiration process where it’s leaving the leaves at a, I guess, at a fairly good clip. Uh, do you, can you infer the humidity from the plants or do you, or is that a separate measurement or?

[00:17:28] Alex Konings: Yeah, it’s basically a separate measurement, um, but you’re right, depending on which instruments we use, uh, it can be something that we kind of have to contend with. Um, so basically depending on exactly which wavelength of the measurement we use, you’ll be more or less sensitive to the atmosphere, uh, or to the plants, or even to the soil. And so, we try and use different satellites depending on what we’re doing to figure, get relative humidity, for example, versus plant water content.

[00:17:59] Russ Altman: This is The Future of Everything with Russ Altman. More with Alex Konings next.

[00:18:13] Welcome back to The Future of Everything. I’m your host, Russ Altman, and I’m speaking with Professor Alex Konings of Stanford University.

[00:18:20] In the last segment, Alex explained the basics of transpiration, how water leaves the leaves as it exits plants and enters the atmosphere. In this segment, she’s going to tell us the importance of this process for things like drought and fire risk.

[00:18:37] And Alex, this all, you mentioned this before, but this all relates to something that’s been on everybody’s mind, which is drought. In fact, I know that some of your work talks about that. We all think about the lack of rain as a big problem for drought, but it’s not just the lack of rain.

[00:18:50] Alex Konings: Yeah, that’s right. Um, so I mentioned this transpiration process sucking, you know, water out of the ground earlier. Um, and that can [00:19:00] also affect how much water is actually left. You know, when we think about sort of drought, the things, the ways in which drought might affect people, right, that would be… how much water is available for drinking? How much water is available for irrigation? Are ecosystems dying off at mass rates? Fire? All these things depend on how much water is kind of in the ground in its different locations. Um, and so if we’re pulling a lot of water, um, out through transpiration, that affects the magnitude of drought.

[00:19:30] So if you look at, um, the western US, for example, right, we’ve had a ton of droughts in the, uh, 21st century so far. And it’s actually been shown, you know, for those droughts, the precipitation, like, yeah, there wasn’t as much precipitation as usual, but relative to the historical record, it was kind of a sort of normal-ish drought in terms of how much precipitation, but because we’ve been having much more evaporation and transpiration because of rising temperatures, that has actually tipped a the drought into, you know, the worst one in more than a thousand years, uh, because of that loss of water.

[00:20:11] And so, it’s making droughts much more severe, and it can actually also cause droughts to come on much more quickly. So, to switch from kind of normal conditions to drought conditions, um, much faster because of that process.

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[00:20:27] Russ Altman: So that’s really interesting. So, there’s the idea that a drought can come faster because transpiration can happen, kind of has a larger volume of water can leave more quickly because of the differential in the temperature.

[00:20:42] So the temperature that the plants are experiencing more than what they’ve seen traditionally, and therefore they’re putting out lots more water from the ground. And they’re actually literally, I’ve heard you say the word, like, it really is sucking water out of the ground that like, if only the plants didn’t do that, we would have it. Of course, plants are important, and they do a lot of other things. So, what is the time scale of these rapid droughts?

[00:21:06] Alex Konings: Yeah, so we’re talking like, uh, basically a couple weeks, um, can be, you can go from, you know, normal conditions to drought in a couple weeks. And if you imagine, you know, if you’re, uh, a farmer trying to adapt to drought, you know, you don’t really have time to adapt. And so actually, if we look historically, um, a lot of these flash droughts have been in the last couple decades, but have been among the most destructive, uh, because they come up so rapidly.

[00:21:37] Russ Altman: Now, in addition to your measurements of the, uh, of the leaves and the plant water, do you also make complementary measurements of groundwater, or can you infer that from the plants?

[00:21:47] Alex Konings: Yeah, great question. So, this is another measurement that my group actually uses from satellites, uh, it’s, I think it’s pretty elegant actually. Um, so with satellites, um, we can measure the force of gravity in different locations. Um, and it actually turns out, you know, unless you have like an earthquake or something, month to month, the changes in the force of gravity are mostly due to changes in how much water is in the land surface.

[00:22:16] Russ Altman: Wow.

[00:22:17] Alex Konings: Uh, so that’s how we can get at that.

[00:22:21] Russ Altman: Um, so if I feel heavier, I can blame the groundwater and it’s not my eating habits.

[00:22:27] Alex Konings: Sure, I think that’s a good excuse.

[00:22:30] Russ Altman: All right, so one and obviously one of the elements of a drought that nobody likes is fire and and you’ve I think you made one reference to fire but let’s go a little bit there because I, um, is that one of the motivations for your work, or is that just a side effect, one of many side effects of these low water situations?

[00:22:48] Alex Konings: Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the motivations and it is one of the things that we study. Um, I mean, fire risk is such a messy problem, right? There’s all of these different dimensions to it. How much vegetation do you have? Is there an ignition risk? What is the wind speed like, topography? Um, but one of the things that sort of historically has been really difficult to account for is just how dry the stuff that might burn is, the fuels.

[00:23:19] Um, and when the stuff that burns is live vegetation, then all of those processes that I was talking about before in terms of the stomata and the roots and all of this other stuff comes into play again. Um, so we’ve used our satellite measurements of water and plants to sort of link that to try and understand how, you know, the way that vegetation responds to climate in different locations, how that might actually inform fire risk across ecosystems, uh, to help us, you know, long term, the goal would be to help us make better and better predictions.

[00:23:55] Russ Altman: So, tell me, where are we now in our ability? So, you have this great satellite imagery, you can estimate the water, you can, as you said before, you can also make some groundwater and maybe some humidity. Um, how good is our modeling in order to tell, like, the California Fire Department, these are the areas where you really need to be worried? Because I see it’s a ticking, it’s a ticking whatever, it’s a ticking fire risk.

[00:24:17] Alex Konings: That’s a great question. Um, I mean, ultimately fire is this kind of, there’s a lot of randomness in fire, right? Like if you can have a spark that’s, I don’t know, a couple inches over from where it might otherwise be, that can make the difference between a fire and no fire or, um, whether or not the wind picks up at a certain time. So, you know, on the whole, we’re still pretty far from being able to say exactly, oh, it’s going to burn in two days in exactly this spot. Um, but…

[00:24:46] Russ Altman: But it does sound like, you know, where the fuel is and where the conditions are looking super dry that if everything else goes bad, you could say, well, this looks like it’s going to be a problem.

[00:24:58] Alex Konings: That’s exactly what I was working up to, right? So, we can sort of say like, okay, well, maybe we can’t predict this exactly. But we can use these new measurements as one of the pieces of a model that says, okay, for these different reasons, you know, this region in northern California is much more vulnerable right now than Tahoe. And it might be the other way around some other time.

[00:25:20] Russ Altman: And I’m guessing that, um, the kinds of data and modeling that you’re doing, uh, might give, uh, counterintuitive, non-intuitive findings. In [00:25:30] other words, like, and I’m thinking about, like, the old salty person who’s been a fire person for 30 years, and they are used to, like, just eyeballing a region and saying, oh, that looks dry, I’m worried about it. Uh, is their intuition going to be supplemented by this data? Is, is it indeed sometimes non-intuitive or if you’re on the ground, is it obvious?

[00:25:50] Alex Konings: Um, I mean, the hope is that it’s not entirely obvious.

[00:25:53] Russ Altman: Right, right.

[00:25:54] Alex Konings: So, that’s one of the things we’re working on, um, right now is figuring out how to kind of integrate all of the existing wealth of fire knowledge, right, which is super important. And like our contributions are only a piece of that, um, but you know, you can always look, you can look at maybe a plan and say, oh, okay, well, this looks pretty dry, uh, but figuring out exactly, uh, how dry it is, right? Again, the numbers is kind of where, where the actual numbers just makes a big difference, that’s, uh, a lot harder to do [00:26:30] without measurements. And then if we can have satellite measurements instead of a couple tiny points here and there from handmade measurements, that can hopefully make a big difference.

[00:26:39] Russ Altman: So, a couple, two quick questions to finish up. The first one is back to the satellite measurements, are these special satellites or like who puts them up? Is it your group who put them up into the air? Is it the federal agencies? Uh, who’s making these?

[00:26:55] Alex Konings: I wish we had the kind of funding to do it ourselves, that’s a little beyond reach. So, we use satellites, uh, mostly from NASA or from the European Space Agency, sometimes Japanese satellites and nicely enough, these federal agencies make all of that data public.

[00:27:10] Russ Altman: Okay.

[00:27:11] Alex Konings: Um, and sometimes there’s satellites that are built for different purposes, right? So, we’ve used some satellites that are used for primarily oceanography applications, for example. Um, but we can then go and reanalyze the data and sort of get more information out of the measurements they’re already making.

[00:27:28] Russ Altman: Great. And then the other question, also governmental to some degree, is have policymakers got, has this gotten on their radar, so to speak? And are they talking to you and your colleagues about ways that this can inform future policies? And if so, what kind of policies might they change or modify in response to the kinds of measurements and findings that you make?

[00:27:51] Alex Konings: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I think there’s sort of two sets of answers to that. Um, one is that the kinds of measurements that we make and the sort of understanding we get, you know, maybe isn’t necessarily so much about policy as in laws, but more about helping other, uh, you know, often governmental agencies with their predictions.

[00:28:15] Russ Altman: Right.

[00:28:15] Alex Konings: So, things like water resources managers or, you know, fire related agencies. Uh, and oftentimes there’s in the U. S. multiple relevant agencies working on these problems, right? Um, so part of it is not so much about policy, but just about data and [00:28:30] helping them modeling. And there’s other ways kind of in which, uh, what we try and do is sort of, um, you know, show, uh, contribute to our work to kind of the magnitude of some of these challenges, uh, which can then help motivate, uh, sort of how budgets are allocated and things like that. And kind of directives from the government of, okay, well, maybe we should, you know, put in some money to try and build a better modeling system that can use data like this. Or, um, you know, just allocate more money for adaptation to increasing droughts to help farmers, things like that.

[00:29:08] Russ Altman: Yeah. And I might imagine that as you make these measurements, you might say, well, we need to change the kinds of plants. Like in some places you might actually do some engineering of the ecosystem, it occurs to me. Uh, maybe, I’m just wondering to like have plants that are where their stomata or whatever are different or behave differently in a way that you can mitigate some local impacts. But I don’t know if I’m just dreaming there.

[00:29:32] Alex Konings: Um, I think it’s a good dream. It’s a little far off. I think it’s like a dangerous game to play.

[00:29:38] Russ Altman: Right.

[00:29:38] Alex Konings: With the level of understanding that we have right now. But, you know, actually I should say like for fire specifically, you know, these increasing temperatures have been a big contributor to the increasing fires, uh, in the Western US and elsewhere, but it’s not the only factor. Right? And one of the other, uh, big factors is, um, just affected in the Western U.S., [00:30:00] we’ve take, taken out so many fires over the last a hundred years that there’s just a ton more vegetation.

[00:30:06] Russ Altman: Yes. Yes.

[00:30:06] Alex Konings: To burn. Um, and so, you know, there are, uh, policies and practices, uh, that we need much more of to help the fire problem in terms of, um, you know, things like, uh, predicted or prescribed burns, right? A controlled burn at a time when it can’t go out of control to get rid of those fuels or sending out goats, mechanical thinning, and that can maybe play more into what you’re saying.

[00:30:33] Russ Altman: Thanks to Alex Konings.

Source: engineeringstanford

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