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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  2019  /  May 2019  /  Tall trees from ground and space

Tall trees from ground and space

Recent activities of UCL Geography’s Remote Sensing Group

Tall trees from ground and space

UCL Geography’s Remote Sensing Group's lidar (laser-based remote sensing) work has featured in various papers in a new volume of Surveys in Geophysics (vol 71): Forest Biomass and Structure from Space, based on a late 2017 International Space Science Institute (ISSI) meeting in Bern.

The papers examine the importance of ground measurements for calibrating and validating measurements of forests from new space missions, including the recently-launched NASA GEDI laser mission on the International Space Station and the ESA BIOMASS radar mission, due to be launched in 2021.

Professor Mat Disney and the Group have also been involved in exciting work measuring what is likely to be the tallest tree ever measured in the tropics, in the Sabah, Malaysian Borneo rainforests.

The tree, nicknamed ‘Menara’, Malay for “tower”, may also be the tallest angiosperm (flowering plant) in the world, a title currently held by "Centurion", a Eucalyptus regnans in Tasmania, Australia, which was measured at 99.67 m in 2016. Menara is a Shorea faguetiana (common name Yellow Meranti) of the Dipterocarpaceae family, which dominates the humid lowland rainforests of SE Asia, and is 100.8 m from top to ground.

Menara was originally identified by airborne lidar in 2014 by a team from Nottingham University with partners including the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership. It was then located on the ground and climbed and measured by local climber Unding Jami. UCL’s Dr Phil Wilkes, in conjunction with an Oxford University team, then helped train local researchers to operate the laser scanner

Mat has also been invited to talk on the UCL group's new lidar work to the botany staff at Kew - a real honour but also a challenge for a non-botanist!

Equally challenging were invitations to give schools talks on trees, including South Hampstead High School and Jubilee Primary School Hackney, where Mat's daughter is a pupil. Her class featured in a recent invited review by Mat, in New Phytologist. They were asked to draw pictures of trees to illustrate how we all see trees differently. This has featured in various places now and has proved popular with other scientists on twitter!

Meanwhile, Matheus Boni Vicari completed his PhD, on how to identify new information on wood and leaf properties from lidar. Matheus had already published 5 papers on his work.



(a) The response of Hazel Class (Year 1), Jubilee Primary School, Hackney (UK), when asked to draw a tree. (b) Terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) scans of plane trees (Platanus × Hispanica) in Russell Square, London (UK), showing height and mass (t), after Wilkes et al. (2018). (c) TLS scans of two coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), Armstrong State Park, CA (USA), over 60 m tall.


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