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IOS members Paul Manos (Duke University) and Andrew Hipp (...
Andrew Hipp | Jun 16, 2021
Despite damage, the Lyytikkylä Oak is still the thickest...
Juha Fagerholm | Jun 10, 2021
Quercus cerris champion tree in spring 2016. Photo from Šušić et al. (2016)
In Serbian tradition, in almost every village or hamlet...
Nikola Šušić | Jun 10, 2021

Plant Focus

The Compton oak at Colonial Williamsburg
A natural hybrid between Quercus lyrata (overcup oak) and Q. virginiana (Southern live oak)

Laser Scans of Oaks

A friend recently brought to my attention the work of Mat Disney, Professor of Remote Sensing at University College London, who has done some fascinating work studying oaks with a terrestrial laser scanner. Mat and his team of collaborators study ways to measure trees and estimate things like the total leaf surface area, the total distance the trees branches would cover if aligned, or the carbon stored in a tree. The results of their work has been published in academic papers and filmed in documentaries. Here is a selection of links that highlight some of their work with oaks.

A good starting place is a section of the 2017 BBC documentary, Judi Dench: My Passion For Trees, where Mat has the celebrated actress eating out of the palm of his hand, as he shows her a laser scan of an oak in her garden and reels off its impressive statistics:

(The documentary has only recently made public on YouTube. It is well worth watching.)

Another BBC documentary, The Oak Tree, Nature's Greatest Survivor, in which George McGavin investigates the highly varied and dramatic life of an oak tree, features Mat and his team. Here he goes a little deeper into the technical aspect of their studies:

(Again, the whole documentary is available to view on YouTube, in two episodes, each around 45 minutes long. Part science documentary, part historical investigation, the film follows an oak tree as it meet the challenges of the four seasons, providing an insight into how this venerable tree experiences life. For the oak enthusiast, there are surely few better ways to spend an hour and half.)

Q. castaneifolia Kew Lidar
Quercus castaneifolia at Kew, in leaf-off condition (left) and as scanned (right). Image from Disney 2019.

The team has also scanned the iconic Quercus castaneifolia (chestnut leaf oak) at Kew Gardens. You can access the 3D model on Mat’s blog (be patient, the model may take some time to load). Mat’s colleague Phil Wilkes has published a series of models of ancient oaks at Cowdray Park, England.

Queen Elizabeth Oak at Cowdray Park
  The Queen Elizabeth Oak at Cowdray Park

The model of the Queen Elizabeth Oak is particularly attractive, but there are several others that can be viewed on his Sketchfab page:


Cowdray Park by kungphil on Sketchfab


A more detailed account of Mat’s work studying trees with terrestrial tree scanning can be found in these articles (click on links to access them):

Disney, M. 2019. Terrestrial LiDAR: a three-dimensional revolution in how we look at trees. New Phytol. 222: 1736-1741. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15517

Burt A., M. Boni Vicari, A.C.L. da Costa, I. Coughlin, P. Meir, L. Rowland, and M. Disney. 2021. New insights into large tropical tree mass and structure from direct harvest and terrestrial lidar. R. Soc. open sci. 8 201458. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.201458

Disney, M., A. Burt, P. Wilkes, et al. 2020. New 3D measurements of large redwood trees for biomass and structure. Sci Rep 10, 16721. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-73733-6