News & Events

Laserscanner findings surprise Dame Judi Dench in BBC "My Passion for Trees" documentary

New 3D laser measurements captured by NCEO and UCL’s Mat Disney and Phil Wilkes feature as part of a landmark documentary ‘Dame Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees’, screening on BBC 1 on December 20th at 8pm.

The programme follows Dame Judi on a journey to some iconic English trees and woodlands, to find more about their history and biology, what goes under the ground, under the bark and up in the canopy. Dame Judi uncovers some surprising facts about the trees in her own back garden in Surrey, some of which she planted in memory of lost friends, and some that are much older.

Details of the BBC programme are here.

Scanning an oak tree in Judi Dench garden (copyright Mathias Disney)
Scanning Judi Dench's oak tree (copywright Mathias Disney)

Mat and Phil surveyed one of the largest and oldest trees in Dame Judi’s garden, a 200-year-old oak tucked away in a wild corner. They used a lidar, which sends out pulses of laser light and detects the reflected pulses, to create a 3D digital representation of the tree. They estimated that it has around 260 thousand leaves (with the area of more than 3 tennis courts), weighs 25 tons and has nearly 12 km of branches.

Mat and Dame Judi explored the tree’s extraordinary 3D structure, and Mat showed how a tree like hers fits into the bigger picture of global feedbacks between plants and climate, by using satellite observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide dynamics. This is part of ongoing research Mat is working on with colleagues from NCEO and elsewhere, including the European Space Agency and NASA, to develop new satellite observations of global forests.

Mat Disney’s terrestrial lidar group blog page is here and he can be found on twitter as @mathiasdisney.