Abstract: Both short-term (weather) and long-term (climate) variations in the atmosphere directly impact various ecosystems on earth. Forest ecosystems, especially tropical forests, are crucial as they are the largest reserves of terrestrial carbon sink. For example, the Amazon forests are a critical component of global carbon cycle storing about 100 billion tons of carbon in its woody biomass. There is a growing concern that these forests could succumb to precipitation reduction in a progressively warming climate, leading to release of significant amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Therefore, there is a need to accurately quantify the dependence of vegetation growth on different climate variables and obtain better estimates of drought-induced changes to atmospheric CO2. The availability of globally consistent climate and earth observation datasets have allowed global scale monitoring of various climate and vegetation variables such as precipitation, radiation, surface greenness, etc. Using these diverse datasets, we aim to quantify the magnitude and extent of ecosystem exposure, sensitivity and resilience to droughts in forests. The Amazon rainforests have undergone severe droughts twice in last decade (2005 and 2010), which makes them an ideal candidate for the regional scale analysis. Current studies on vegetation and climate relationships have mostly explored linear dependence due to computational and domain knowledge constraints. We explore a modeling technique called symbolic regression based on evolutionary computation that allows discovery of the dependency structure without any prior assumptions. In symbolic regression the population of possible solutions is defined via trees structures. Each tree represents a mathematical expression that includes pre-defined functions (mathematical operators) and terminal sets (independent variables from data). Selection of these sets is critical to computational efficiency and model accuracy. In this work we investigate appropriate function and terminal set choices for the symbolic regression based modeling of the effects of climate on Amazon vegetation. Additionally, we compare the predictive capability of the symbolic regression based model to baseline techniques such as linear regularized regression and support vector regression.
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Bongard's work focuses on understanding the general nature of cognition, regardless of whether it is found in humans, animals or robots. This unique approach focuses on the role that morphology and evolution plays in cognition. Addressing these questions has taken him into the fields of biology, psychology, engineering and computer science.
Danforth is an applied mathematician interested in modeling a variety of physical, biological, and social phenomenon. He has applied principles of chaos theory to improve weather forecasts as a member of the Mathematics and Climate Research Network, and developed a real-time remote sensor of global happiness using messages from Twitter: the Hedonometer. Danforth co-runs the Computational Story Lab with Peter Dodds, and helps run UVM's reading group on complexity.
Laurent studies the interaction of structure and dynamics. His research involves network theory, statistical physics and nonlinear dynamics along with their applications in epidemiology, ecology, biology, and sociology. Recent projects include comparing complex networks of different nature, the coevolution of human behavior and infectious diseases, understanding the role of forest shape in determining stability of tropical forests, as well as the impact of echo chambers in political discussions.
Hines' work broadly focuses on finding ways to make electric energy more reliable, more affordable, with less environmental impact. Particular topics of interest include understanding the mechanisms by which small problems in the power grid become large blackouts, identifying and mitigating the stresses caused by large amounts of electric vehicle charging, and quantifying the impact of high penetrations of wind/solar on electricity systems.
Bagrow's interests include: Complex Networks (community detection, social modeling and human dynamics, statistical phenomena, graph similarity and isomorphism), Statistical Physics (non-equilibrium methods, phase transitions, percolation, interacting particle systems, spin glasses), and Optimization(glassy techniques such as simulated/quantum annealing, (non-gradient) minimization of noisy objective functions).