Ecologists at the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK) are turning to digital cameras to help them study how the trees in forests are responding to climate change.
Discovering how forests take up carbon dioxide during photosynthesis has traditionally been achieved by taking readings from carbon dioxide sensors placed on towers above the canopy of the forest.
Now, Toshie Mizunuma, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, has developed a way of using the seasonal changes in forest color captured in digital photographs to calculate how much carbon dioxide deciduous trees soak up.
The team working with Mizunuma fist set up a camera in Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire, a commercial oak forest planted in the 1930s. The commercial 'fish-eye' digital camera looked down at the canopy from the top of a tower capturing images every 30 minutes during daylight for two years.
The digital images from the camera were then analyzed by the team to see if they could correlate the color of the forest canopy with the carbon dioxide measurements taken at the site using the traditional sensors.
After doing so, they discovered that the hue of the color in the images was closely related to the uptake of carbon dioxide. Using the image data, the team was able to estimate carbon uptake over a two-year period taking into account temperature and humidity.
According to Mizunuma, the data confirm that digital cameras could be very useful in monitoring climate change effects in forests. Toshie Mizunuma presented her findings on Thursday December 20 2012 to the British Ecological Society's Annual Meeting at the University of Birmingham.
A three-minute video detailing her research is available here.
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-- Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design