Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Celebri-tree ....

Back to Kew on a chilly morning with Phil, to meet Tony Kirkham, Kew’s hugely knowledgeable and accommodating Arboretum Director. Tony invited us to come and scan one of Kew’s Champion trees - the tallest Chestnut-leaved oak in the UK. And it’s quite a specimen - I’ve not seen Quercus castaneifolia close-up before and this one is over 35 m tall and with some amazing secondary stems and boughs.
Quite the character.
It was a classic chilly London morning, but there’s worse places to work. I always learn stuff when I’m at Kew, particularly when I'm with Tony, about the trees themselves and their history and ecology but also about how trees like this need to be so carefully managed: air-blowing the soil around the roots to aerate them; pollarding the middle of the crown so it acts less like a sail in high winds, reducing stress on the trunk. And today’s word of the day 'Balanocultures: people that depend on acorns as a staple diet'. Also found out that the word Druid means ‘to know the oak’. Trees eh?

Good times.

Phil and I also scanned a sweet chestnut of unusual shape, which apparently featured as the model for the Whomping Willow in the first Harry Potter film. It’s not a willow, but it’s still a cool tree.

Funny looking willow.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Trees and champagne

Happy New Year and welcome to 2018. Well, 2017 was a doozy and finished off with the very enjoyable aspect of seeing our work appear on the Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees. The programme seemed to go down extremely well, with seemingly universal outstanding reviews (see here, here and here for example, as well as my personal fave: "Come for the lols, stay for the poignant thoughts about death."). We've already had some interesting feedback. As well as some "interesting" feedback 😁. It was certainly quite entertaining following #MyPassionForTrees trending on twitter on the 20th December! There's definitely some new possibilities opening up as more people see this work. More to come this year I think!

Meanwhile, Andy's been busy pulling out trees from the California plots. This is a snapshot of the 20 largest stems from the Grove of Old Trees, the first plot we scanned there, and an absolutely stunning place to work. These trees range from
Twenty sequioas from the Grove of Old Trees, Sonoma, California.
Meanwhile, we're off back to Surrey, Kew and then plans for trips back to Malaysia, Brazil and elsewhere. Onwards and upwards. Trees and champagne for everyone!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees

It's not often you get to use lidar and Dame Judi Dench in the same sentence. But we've been lucky enough to work on a new documentary presented by Dame Judi, to be shown 20th Dec BBC 1 8pm, and featuring some of our lidar work. The program follows Dame Judi on a journey to some iconic English trees and woodlands, to find more about their history and biology, what goes under the ground, under the bark and up in the canopy. It's a very beautiful film with some very interesting science: the sounds of transpiration, canopy response to predation, and the fungal communities that seem to facilitate communication of resources and even 'information' in some senses, between trees.

We visited Dame Judi's garden last summer and scanned a 200 year old oak tucked away in a wild corner. We then estimated the mass of the tree, and its leaf area/count - 25 tons and 260k if you're interested! We then generated a nice fly-through of the garden and around the tree, which then talked through with Dame Judi - she was suitably impressed by the detail. Interestingly, our estimate suggest the tree has 12 km of branches, more than any other tree we've come across, even in the tropics.
Press shot of Dame Judi in bluebell wood, from: 

Phil and I working Dame Judi's garden. The oak tree in question is in the background.
The program was made by Atlantic Productions, and is beautifully done - not too heavy on the foley sounds either :-) Anthony Geffen, CEO of Atlantic, gave our lidar a nice plug before the preview screening at Kew, and the whole event was introduced by Richard Deverell, the director of Kew. Alchemy VR also made a fantastic VR fly-through of our lidar data, which they had running at the drinks reception after the screening. Phil and I were blown away - *THIS* is how you have to view all lidar data! Dame Judi also seemed suitably impressed by that - who wouldn't be? BBC Arts have handily put the extended version of this up on their FB page:

Dame Judi looking at our VR lidar, watched by Anthony Geffen, CEO of Atlantic. Thanks to Alchemy VR.
The screening was also a fascinating chance to meet some of the people who were involved in making the program, particularly Tony Kirkham head of Kew's arboretum. We'll be back at Kew in January scanning one of Tony's icon trees.

Meanwhile, here's a 3D model of an example oak tree scanned by us.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

BBC docs featuring our work

I've just noticed that two BBC documentaries featuring our work are available in HD on youtube. "Nature's Greatest Survivor" from 2015, presented by Dr. George McGavin, describes a year in the life of an oak tree on the edge of Wytham Woods. The upload seems to have been slightly speeded up in compression, so unfortunately sounds a bit Mickey Mouse, but hey, the visuals are still great ;-) Our work features from the start.

Life and Death on Your Lawn screened earlier in 2017, presented by Chris Packham, and describes the hidden world of biodiversity in suburban gardens of Welwyn Garden City. Our work features from about 1:15 in.

Saturday, 30 September 2017


I've been in Kourou in French Guiana this week, at a workshop on Remote sensing for tropical biodiversity mapping and management across scales, organised by Jérôme Chave from CNRS, Toulouse, and Grégoire Vincent, IRD, Montpellier. The thematic workshop is funded as part of the CEBA Centre for Study of Biodiversity in Amazonia programme here in French Guiana, and the idea is to bring together early-career scientists, interested in these topics and selected based on a proposal to work on a specific application, with a cross-disciplinary 'faculty' including David Coomes (Cambridge), Maria Joao Ferreira dos Santos (Uni Utrecht), Jean-Baptiste Féret (IRSTEA) and Sassan Saatchi (JPL). The aim is that by bringing together a relatively small group, and addressing specific, focused topics at an almost 1-1 level, rapid progress can be made by sharing tools and methods, adapting/trying new code and methods, as well as for thinking about some of these areas in new ways. From what I've seen, the workshop has been extremely productive and successful - ideas mulled and tried out, papers proposed, data munged, connections made.....

A fuzzy view of afternoon discussions in the lab. As seen by the ZEB-REVO in double quick time.

Paracou field station, from lidar from above.

It's been a fantastic week - a real privilege to be invited and to catch up with some old faces, and meet many more new, particularly the incredibly bright and enthusiastic participants. It's certainly provided food for thought for me, even if that isn't the main aim :-) I've seen new work on demographics, different ways of considering diversity & species richness, the wide range of conceptions of forest 'structure' (there's so many ways to look at it!), acoustic mapping, wood density and growth rates, overstory, understory, lidar, hyperspectral, modelling and on and on. I can't wait to follow some of this up. The one downside? During a day visit to see the work at the long term Amazonian tropical field station and Guyaflux tower at Paracou, I managed to pick up some very unwanted and irritating passengers in the form of Trombiculidae, or chiggers. Aaargh.

Lidar view of the Guyaflux tower at Paracou.

As a serendipitous bonus, we were lucky enough to get a last-minute tour of the Ariane spaceport just up the road (the main industry around here), the day before a scheduled Ariane launch! This had been delayed from a few weeks ago, apparently just for our benefit, on a balmy Friday evening. Sitting on the beach with the sun going down behind us and watching a spectacular launch was a fitting end to a great week. Props to Jérôme, Grégroire and Jessica (the tireless organiser) for sorting that out. The only slight hiccup was the small earthquake yesterday morning which surprised us all - no harm done though.

The gang - at the space centre.

Friday, 22 September 2017

They might be giants

So, here's the first example of one of our Sequoia sempervirens TLS data. To say I'm excited would be somewhat of an understatement. No one has seen these trees like this before, and there will be so many things to look at from these data. The data are just stunning, and this doesn't do data to them but still .....
I get a cricked neck just looking at this!
The tree is ~80 m tall, and 16 m across the crown. Phil generated a first estimate of the volume which suggests it's ~80 m3, meaning it weighs about 40 tons! And 50% of that volume is in the lower 20 m of the trunk, perhaps unsurprisingly given its shape.

Meanwhile, here's a great example of Dave's 14 GoPro 360 photo setup.
Can't say we look good, but the trees certainly do. Remember, never go full lumberjack Andy.

Dave developed his Terrestrial Recording of 3D 360 Surveys (TR33S) system under funding he was awarded through the Universities Space Research Association (USRA - Columbia, Maryland) Internal Research & Development Program. The TR33S collects pictures in every direction by linking the 14 cameras together. The 360 photos are great, but more generally Dave is aiming to capture 3D point clouds using structure-from-motion (SfM). SfM is a photogrammetric technique that can model a 3D space from 2D images. It's widely used for UAVs but this is the first time I've seen it used like this, and there are some potentially great applications in forest research like this! Dave has written about his work with the camera on the NASA blogs: Below the Mangrove Canopy; and Mangrove Carbon With a Grain of Salt.