Virtual carbon tree illustrates carbon sequestration

This summer, the Think Corner of the University of Helsinki provides an excellent opportunity to play master of the elements. Visitors can adjust the availability of light, carbon dioxide and heat to a virtual tree. As a result, the carbon tree shows how different natural conditions affect the capture of carbon from the atmosphere.

Virtual carbon tree illustrates carbon sequestration

Trees use solar energy to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen. About half of the annual photosynthetic production of a tree is used for new growth, while the other half is consumed in the tree’s vital functions, where carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere through cellular respiration.

Carbon dioxide is also released when fallen leaves, branches and dead roots decompose in the ground, whereas tree trunks and roots function as long-term carbon storage media. All this makes trees effective carbon sinks.

In June and July, the Think Corner of the University of Helsinki will house an interactive carbon tree. Visitors can experiment with how changes in the amount of light, the temperature, and the atmospheric CO2 content affect the tree’s carbon sequestration capacity. You can adjust the living conditions of the tree using, for example, your breath or the warmth of your hand to influence the sensors.

From Hyytiälä to the virtual world

The inspirational forebear of the carbon tree installation is a real tree growing in Juupajoki at the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station. Its calculated carbon sequestration capacity has been monitored online for three years. Users have been able to select either the present conditions, sample conditions from different seasons or, as at the Think Corner, determine the conditions themselves.

– In many ways, the carbon tree installation at the Think Corner is an updated version of the first carbon tree. This is the first time that it has been made wholly independent and taken outside the net. This makes it easier to use at different events, states project leader Eija Juurola from the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of Helsinki.

Growing the new carbon tree offline has taken a little less than a year. Artist Terike Haapoja, who designed the concept for the carbon flow animation, is very satisfied with the virtual tree’s new phase of life.

– The tree is much more dynamic than before. The carbon particles have been animated to make the tree appear three-dimensional and as if swaying in the wind. The installation also includes a soundscape reminiscent of the whisper of a forest that changes with the conditions.

In future, the new carbon tree installation and the upcoming related website will be used in teaching. »»

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Text: Elina Raukko
Photo: Simosol Oy / Ivaylo Dzhedzhev
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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