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Thoroughbred program grows super trees in central Newfoundland

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Scientists in central Newfoundland are having great success with a thoroughbred breeding program.

It’s not, as you might guess, about race horses or show dogs. These guys are producing super … trees.

Ever since Barry Linehan, who manages the provincial government’s Centre for Agriculture and Forestry Development in Wooddale, was in school, he dreamed of growing a bigger, better version of the trees made by Mother Nature. These days, his dream is coming true.

Linehan checks out a recently planted super seedling. (Leigh Anne Power)

“So, we started in the early ’80s, going out and covering the entire province looking for these super trees,” he said.

“Technical staff combed thousands and thousands of stands looking for these fast-growing trees, large diameter, small branches, which would mean better quality lumber. Trees that had no sign of disease and straight.”

“Almost a thousand different trees were identified as being these super trees. We call them ‘plus trees.'” 

Finding super trees in the wild was just the first step. Linehan and his colleagues then had to figure out how to duplicate them in great numbers.

“First, they were cloned by grafting and brought to the nursery here. Then they were bred and then planted out in tests,” he explained. “So, any improvement program … if you’re working with racehorses, you’re looking to breed the two thoroughbreds, then test the offspring, then select the offspring. It’s the same with trees.” 

One of dozens of greenhouses at Wooddale, filled with super tree seedlings. (Leigh Anne Power)

Once they successfully cloned the best trees, the scientists started cross-breeding them.

“The female part of the tree on a conifer is a cone. So we pull this bag over the tree. It’s got a window in it so you can peek in and see how she’s doing,” he said.

“So if the cone is receptive, she lets you know. Then we collect pollen off another tree that we want to cross it with.”

“And we put that in a little perfume bottle, make a slit in the bag, puff this pollen in and seal it. Then we know that every seed that’s in this bag is of this known pedigree.”

Part of Dean Taylor’s job is the actual breeding of the super trees. He’s the guy who uses that perfume bottle to spray pollen into the cone bags. His colleagues jokingly call him the Sperminator.

Taylor shows off a cooler filled with millions of tree seeds. (Leigh Anne Power)

After the cones produce thoroughbred seeds, he has to get them out of there.

The cones have to be dried, and the seeds shaken out. Then they have to be separated from all the debris that’s shaken out with them. They’re filtered through the several levels of a separator and in the end, millions of super seeds are bagged and stored in the cooler at minus ten degrees until planting time.

Also in the cooler are huge containers of wild seed, ready in case of a major fire or outbreak of disease that would require replanting a lot of trees quickly.

Year-round operation

Taylor says when breeding season is over, it doesn’t mean the work stops. The greenhouses need to be tended and records kept up to date so he knows exactly which trees carry what genes. 

“Never a dull moment here,” he said. “You could be at anything on moment and the next be at something else. There’s that much stuff going on here. Especially in the tree world, you could have insects, disease, parasites. Anything could happen in one day. You’re going around looking at something and things change overnight.” 

Linehan checks out a sack of super tree cones. (Leigh Anne Power)

The vast tree orchards at Wooddale have been decades in the making. Now, though, Linehan and his team are starting to see real results.

“Our first generation is nearing completion. We’re getting about 15 per cent genetic gains in our white spruce. And in a couple of years we’ll have 20 per cent genetic gain,” he said. 

“By genetic gain, I mean more wood volume per hectacre. Twenty per cent, 15 per cent more wood volume today than there was originally, compared to wild tree stands.”

Program already showing success

The goal is to produce 40 per cent more wood. That would mean 40 per cent more viable timber for building, less land use and easier access for harvesters.

And super trees grow faster than those in the wild, so there’s less time to wait before cutting them.  

Trees are both male and female, with the female cones on the upper branches. (Leigh Anne Power)

Barry Linehan says every year when he sees the data that proves his program is working, it’s like Christmas.

He’ll probably have retired from his dream job by the time it reaches its peak. But he believes the work he’s doing now will build a better forest and create new jobs for lots of others.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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