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Researchers use lasers to scan huge trees in the Amazonian jungle

NCEO researcher Dr. Mat Disney and his team have spent the last 2 weeks in the Amazonian jungle in French Guiana, scanning the dense rainforest with Mat’s NCEO-funded 3-D terrestrial laser scanning instrument.

They were based at the French CNRS field station at Nouragues, a 30-minute helicopter ride from Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana. They were in the forest to measure the structure of the canopy very accurately, and to estimate the mass of the trees.

The mass is particularly important as it represents the carbon stored in the forests. This storage is likely to change with predicted changes in temperature and rainfall, but forecasts of how fast, and even in which direction, are particularly uncertain due to the difficulty of estimating tree mass.


One of the tall (over 45m) trees being scanned by Mat and his team, with the characteristic buttressed trunks that hold up the trees in the often poor and shallow soil.

The results of their work in French Guiana will provide better estimates of forest structure and mass in the tropics, and help scientists understand forest growth and function.

Their data will also be used to help calibrate and validate new satellite estimates of tropical forests, through collaborations with the European Space Agency BIOMASS and NASA GEDI teams.

The trip was funded by CNRS with additional support from NCEO. Mat has a separate NERC standard grant to carry out scanning expeditions across the tropics over the next 3 years, in collaboration with forest ecologists and other EO researchers and providers.

While in the forest, the team were lucky enough to see an ESA Ariane rocket launch from Korou, which provided a spectacular backdrop to sunset over the research station.


 View of the rainforest in French Guiana from a slightly damp helicopter window.

The first modelling fly-through results for H20 plot, in Nouragues, French Guiana, from the team's November 2015 field campaign can be viewed on Youtube:

And some footage of the forest taken from the helicopter can be seen here: