Identifying Compound Climate Drivers of Forest Mortality with β-VAE (Papers Track)

Mohit Anand (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ); Lily-belle Sweet (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ); Gustau Camps-Valls (Universitat de València); Jakob Zscheischler (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ)

Slides PDF Recorded Talk NeurIPS 2022 Poster Topia Link Cite


Climate change is expected to lead to higher rates of forest mortality. Forest mortality is a complex phenomenon driven by the interaction of multiple climatic variables at multiple temporal scales, further modulated by the current state of the forest (e.g. age, stem diameter, and leaf area index). Identifying the compound climate drivers of forest mortality would greatly improve understanding and projections of future forest mortality risk. Observation data are, however, limited in accuracy and sample size, particularly in regard to forest state variables and mortality events. In contrast, simulations with state-of-the-art forest models enable the exploration of novel machine learning techniques for associating forest mortality with driving climate conditions. Here we simulate 160,000 years of beech, pine and spruce forest dynamics with the forest model FORMIND. We then apply β-VAE to learn disentangled latent representations of weather conditions and identify those that are most likely to cause high forest mortality. The learned model successfully identifies three characteristic climate representations that can be interpreted as different compound drivers of forest mortality.

Recorded Talk (direct link)