Friday, 5 September 2014

Scanning in suburbia

We spent a couple of days in August scanning in suburban Luton. Not necessarily the most glamorous, or even obvious location for scanning vegetation. But this work was for a colleague, Dr. Steve Hancock from Exeter University, who we've worked with for several years - since he graduated as one of our PhD students in fact. Steve's research interests include using terrestrial and airborne lidar to measure canopy properties, and using this information in radiation models, and ecological models more generally. Steve's currently working a 6-year NERC-funded research programme called BESS (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability). One of the themes of BESS is F3UES (Fragments, Functions, Flows and Urban Ecosystem Services). Steve is looking at ways to measure the structure of vegetation in urban areas in a fine-grained way, in order to assess its utility as an ecosystem. Related work is going on mapping bird and insect distributions in the same areas in order to assess ecosystem value. Small, fragmented urban areas of vegetation (gardens, parks etc) are generally overlooked when spatial estimates of habitat are made at scales of 10s of m or greater - they are often too small or irregular, or variable, to be included.

Steve asked us to come and scan some of their core sites in Luton that he had identified from airborne lidar as potentially containing interesting pieces of vegetation. We took the TLS into these areas (including a Girl Guide hut garden, suburban garden, street front and the large, mature garden of a residential care home) and collected scans of the dominant vegetation.

RGB (top) and range (bottom) from a suburban garden, flowerbeds and ornamental shrubs.

Scanning in back gardens, sitting on a bench and with the kind offer of a nice cup of tea from the house owner certainly makes a change from struggling through tropical forests, or even standing in English woodlands in the rain.  
RGB (top), intensity (centre) and range (bottom) from an urban carpark with a large willow in the foreground. 
I'm looking forward to working more on these data with Steve over the coming months, relating to the airborne lidar data he has, and trying to explain the properties of the lidar waveform data. Ultimately, Steve aims to provide a better characterisation of the ecosystem structure and value from this type of analysis, which will be both novel and illuminating.