Forest Flows

Creating water-resilient landscapes

We propose to create a biophysical model that will revolutionize the way forest hydrology is approached, both in New Zealand and internationally.

Clean, fresh water is essential for life. As land-use intensification and climate change place growing pressure on water resources, it is vital that we manage water use sustainably. Planted forests can be managed to provide beneficial water outcomes, given adequate science information. However, forest hydrology science in New Zealand is hopelessly out of date. 

Forest Flows - creating water-resilient landscapes $13.7 million proposal was successfully funded through the 2019 NZ MBIE Endeavour funding round. Over the next five years, Scion along with its 13 New Zealand and international research collaborators will take a fundamentally new approach to investigate and quantify the key mechanisms in water use, storage, and release in planted forests.

Current state

  • Increasing concern with water availability and quality
  • Concern about impact of large-scale forest plantings
  • Increasing questions on how much water radiata pine and other species use and downstream impacts on water supply
  • Little research in forest hydrology over the last 40 years
  • Lack of data and information
  • Information “black hole” being filled with commentary

Key questions

  • How does forestry’s water use compare to other sectors?
  • How much and how long is water stored in planted forested catchments? 
  • How much water is released? 
  • Can planted forests improve water quality? 
  • Areplanted forests an important source of water during the summer

A focus on radiata pine

Radiata pines grow quickly in different soils and climates and were introduced to New Zealand. Radiata pine is now the dominant commercial forestry species in New Zealand and occupies 4.9% of the land area.

  • How much water is required to grow radiata pine in different regions? 
  • How does the associated water use compare to other tree species
  • How sensitive is radiata pine to climate change?

Paradigm shift

Planted forests are increasingly seen as a competitor for water by downstream users, and this is only likely to increase with the large-scale afforestation planned in the One Billion Trees Programme. This research programme hopes to turn that around, and prove how strategically situated planted forests can substantially increase water resources, further mitigating flooding, and enhancing future primary-sector productivity with increased water flow during drier months.

Ten years down the track this could mean, that tree species planted as part of the One Billion Trees programme, or for carbon sequestration, timber and non-timber products are spatially optimised by catchment to maximise water ecosystem services. We envisage that new planted forests will be used as low-cost water-storage alternatives to dams and passively supply downstream users during dry months and mitigate them during storms. 

As part of this we will be looking to make an "apples-to-apples" comparison between water use between several exotic tree species and several indigenous tree species to see if some species use a lot more, or less, water than others.

Digital Twin - Pulse of the forest

The bold goal of this programme is to create a new biophysical forest hydrology model combining cutting edge remote sensing techniques with terrestrial based measurements, integrating data and enabling scale, from tree, to stand, to forest to catchment, as a digital model applicable to planted forests all over New Zealand. 

These extrapolations will be made possible through detailed analysis and simulation capability, and coupled with powerful tools including visualisation and enabling access to insights, achieving this Forest Digital Twin will be a major breakthrough for hydrology research internationally. 

The latest from our blog

Forest Flows addressing challenges with freshwater hydrological models

June's report on freshwater models by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the EnvironmentRead more

Forest Flows Results Shared at Environmental Forestry 2024 Conference

The Forest Flows Research Programme shared its data driven results at the Environmental Forestry Conference ( 25th-26th June 2024. TheRead more

New Paper on Predicting Soil Water Movement and Storage in Forested Catchments in the Journal of Hydrology

Latest Scientific Paper! Soils are a crucial component of forest hydrology - for water storage and release. This Forest Flows research, led by Shanxi Agricultural University's Dr Hongfen Zhu, developRead more

Forest Hydrology going to the stars

Scion was successful with two projects being funded Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment NZ-NASA Research Partnership. Dean Meason is leading one on the tree-water (hydrological) cycleRead more

Forest Flows in the Spotlight for World Water Day 2024!

Forest Flows in the spotlight for International Day of the Forests and World Water Day 2024Read more

New Paper on Remote Sensing Dry Periods in Forests in Remote Sensing Journal

New published paper! This Forest Flows research led by University of Massachusetts Amherst Kostas Andreadis compared NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space AgenRead more

Sharing and learning knowledge at the Ngā Puawai o Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhe

It was an amazing experience to attend the Ngā Puawai o Te-Oneroa-a-Tōhe in Kaitāia on September 28th-30th. As one of the over 80 invited stakeholders, the remarkable wānanga brought togetherRead more

Presentation at The Forest Bridge Trust Hui, Kaipara Flats

Thank you The Forest Bridge Trust ( for the opportunity to present at your "Building a Legacy Conservation Hui 2023" at Kaipara Flats last Friday. It wasRead more

Presentation to APPITA and NZIF

Last week Forest Flows got the opportunity to present to the Joint APPITA & NZIF Annual Dinner in Rotorua, important stakeholder groups. The overview of the Ministry of Business, Innovation andRead more

New Forest Flows Paper in CATENA!

New paper! This research, in the high impact CATENA journal, looks at the spatial resolution of digital elevation maps (DEM) and interpolation of topography and soil properties. This interpolationRead more

Knowledge sharing in Germany and the Netherlands

I wanted to give a shout out to the folks that hosted me at Forschungszentrum Jülich and Wageningen University & Research during the last few days of the Europe trip to present and discuss theRead more

Knowledge sharing in France

Last week was a busy one with attending and presenting the latest Forest Flows results at the European Space Agency - ESA PolinSAR and Biomass 2023 ConferenceRead more

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