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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2016  /  October 2016  /  Big science in the Amazon

Big science in the Amazon

Mat and Matheus in 3D forest scanning

Big science in the Amazon

Dr Mat Disney and his team were in the Amazon again this September as part of a large-scale Brazilian project to measure the response of the rainforest to changes in the CO2 levels of the atmosphere.

The Amazon FACE project is a so-called ‘Free air CO2 Enrichment’ experiment, which aims to measure the impact of rising CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere.

In the FACE experiment, CO2 is being physically pumped into selected forest plots to raise ambient CO2 by around 50% above the natural level for the next decade and more. Tracking the resulting impact on plant and soil function, as well as in nearby untreated 'control' plots, provides a glimpse of what the forest will look like with changing atmospheric CO2 in around 100 years.

It's about as close as we can get to a climate time machine experiment!

Rising atmospheric CO2 can have a major impact on forests by increasing growth (so-called CO2 'fertilisation'), with consequent impacts on the global carbon cycle and climate. AmazonFACE is the first time this kind of large-scale manipulation experiment has been done in a tropical rainforest.

Mat and Matheus Boni Vicari, a PhD student in UCLGeography, were kindly invited by Professor David Lapola and the AmazonFACE team to visit the FACE site to scan the plots with Mat's lidar equipment. They visited all 8 plots, collecting very detailed 3D laser scans, which they will use to characterise their biomass and structure.

These data will also be used to establish a baseline of the canopy structure against which future changes can be compared, as well as to identify the structural differences between plots at the outset. They will fit into Mat's larger picture of tropical forest structure measured with lidar. Matheus will use them in his work with Mat to see how 3D information from laser scanning can better be used to measure and understand forest structure.



Cross section through a lidar scan, showing height. Colour represents intensity of the returned laser pulse.

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