New approaches to measuring and valuing urban forests

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Mathias Disney

Geography, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Philip Lewis

Geography, UCL

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Project Description:

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and urban trees are critical to human health and well-being. Trees provide shade, mitigate floods, absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂), filter air pollution and provide habitats for birds, mammals and other plants. Measuring the size, shape and mass of trees, let alone their wider benefits, particularly their less tangible but arguably more important impact on health and wellbeing. This project will develop better ways to quantify and value urban forests both in the UK and overseas using a range of remote sensing, ground-based, climate, ecological, and socio-economic data. The student would test hypotheses relating tree size and shape to mass, and how these can be assessed at scale in urban areas more effectively. The project would also aim to quantify the benefits (or otherwise) of the push towards planting trees in cities. Is there good evidence that this is the best way to improve quality and access to urban green space? Do we value existing large mature trees well, or are they under (or over) valued? Are there unintended negative consequences in the rush to plant new trees?
The project would collect detailed 3D measurements of urban trees using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) to quantify 3D size and structure. The student will use these data as local reference datasets for calibrating the TLS, airborne and satellite estimates ecosystem service value of trees at larger scale. The project would aim to compare and contrast cities both in the UK and more widely, where open data were available.

Policy Impact of Research:

Providing a better way to quantify the many benefits of urban trees is crucial to inform policy on planning around urban green infrastructure and the benefits for health, wellbeing and resilience to climate change. The student will work with partners (NGOs, local authorities, urban tree experts) to develop new tools to facilitate wide use of these new data and maps.

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