UCL Department of Geography


Laser technology reveals the weight of some of the world’s biggest trees

16 February 2018

Royal Society publishes latest results of pioneering UCL Geography research

Laser Technology

A pioneering approach to measuring the structure and mass of trees by Professor Mat Disney, collaborating with international colleagues, is allowing quantification of how much carbon they absorb and how they might respond to climate change.

On 16 February, The Royal Society Interface Focus journal, which presents research at the interface of the physical and life sciences, published two studies using technology to capture the 3D structure of individual trees in ways they have never been seen before.

A seemingly ordinary Sycamore tree in Wytham Woods near Oxford, for example, has been found to have nearly 11km of branches, double that of the much larger tropical trees measured by Dr Disney’s team.

Working with Professor Yadvinder Malhi, Oxford University, and the Gabonese National Parks Agency, the team also used the technology to measure a 45m tall Moabi tree in Gabon with a 60m crown. This weighed an estimated 100 tons, making it the largest tropical tree ever measured in this way.

Until now trees could be weighed only by cutting them down or using indirect methods with potentially large errors, such as remote sensing or scaling up from manual measurements of trunk diameter.

The new technology provides an important advance in measuring tree mass which is vital in revealing how much carbon is absorbed during their lifetimes and how they may respond to climate change

In future, accurate assessments of so-called “Above Ground Biomass” (AGB) will underpin international efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Read the papers