Tree-Mendous Technology
The Science and Technology of Studying the Treetops


When Dr. Jess Parker, head of SERCís Forest Ecology Lab, walks through a forest, he looks up. The forest canopy is a microclimate of its own, one that absorbs sunlight and rain, removes particles like dust and pollen, and even affects the pH of rainwater as it makes its way down to the forest floor. The forest ceiling houses the machinery of photosynthesis, controls the growth of the entire forest, and provides habitat for many organisms.

The challenge has always been how to get to the tops of these trees and collect data there. SERC scientists have developed unique ways to access these treetops, such as balloon-mounted sensors, towers and cranes. These methods are not always as fast, accurate or easy to use as scientists need them to be, and they provide a glimpse of only the outer surface of the canopy. Just recently, however, Dr. Parker developed a new instrument to measure the vertical profile of forest canopies, one that is portable and accurate. Using laser range finder technology, Dr. Parker and his staff are now seeing aspects of the forests never before seen. Developed along with the LIDAR instrument is visualization software to display the 3-D organization of canopies measured by the system. The result is the equivalent of the first CAT-scan of a forest.

During this Electronic Field Trip, students will go into a forest canopy with Dr. Parker to learn about forest ecology and the technology available to study it.