National Physical Laboratory

NPL scientist wins prestigious Robert May Prize

Dr Kim Calders of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has won the Robert May Prize for the best paper submitted by an early-career researcher. The prestigious prize, awarded each year by the British Ecological Society, was given to Dr Calders for his paper on non-destructive mass sampling of biological environments such as rainforests. The British Ecological Society described the paper as both a great achievement of international science and an important addition to the repertoire of ecological measurement tools.

Dr Kim Calders working in the field at Lope National Park, Gabon
Dr Kim Calders working in the field at Lope
National Park, Gabon

Accounting for over 30% of Earth's surface area, forests provide invaluable benefits to the climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Measuring the mass of trees within forests allows climate scientists to take stock of how much carbon is locked within forests. This allows policy-makers and scientists to make essential decisions about the mitigation of climate change.

Biomass and carbon content are currently measured using physical sampling techniques. Field workers travel to rainforests and measure trees by hand. The mass of each tree is estimated using empirical relationships between its size and shape. These relations are called allometric relations, and are generally obtained through destructive sampling in which trees are felled and then measured and weighed. This sampling is time-consuming and expensive, and therefore the sample size of harvested trees is limited. The uncertainty of the derived allometric relationships can be large, especially for the larger trees.

Dr Calders' team created a new method of measuring biomass in forest settings. Using accurate laser-scanning technology to measure each tree's volume, the team used sophisticated mathematical modelling and remote-sensing methods to make accurate estimates of biomass. The technique builds upon the existing density database, adding information without felling trees. This makes measurements of carbon content much more accurate.

The work is the result of a collaboration between institutions including University College London and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. It brings together experts working on a wide range of tasks ranging from imaging woodlands in Oxfordshire, to developing mathematical models at research institutes inĀ Finland, and to physical sampling in the forests of Australia.

The British Ecological Society has praised both the scope and promising nature of Dr Calders' work, noting its potential for monitoring the world's carbon reserves and developing new climate-based policy.

"With this technique, we can deliver highly-accurate biomass measurements, which could really help environmental sampling," Dr Calders adds. "I'm extremely happy that the British Ecological Society has recognised our work."

Read more about Dr Calders' technique

Find out about three-dimensional imaging done by Dr Calders' team

Find out more about NPL's work in Optical Radiation & Photonics and Earth Observation & Climate

For more information, contact Dr Kim Calders

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Last Updated: 19 Dec 2016
Created: 12 Jul 2016

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