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How the Science Works

September 28, 2012

From space shuttles to trees, scientists find a new application for imaging technology.

Some of the first scientific work with the kind of imaging system used at the Arboretum was done in the 1950s with US reconnaissance photos to measure changing conditions on the ground. With the advent of digital imagery, the technology rapidly matured and, would prove a critical tool in supporting the Space Shuttle Columbia accident investigation and flying the shuttle more safely post Columbia.
Now, through a grant for tree risk assessment testing, Arboretum scientists are studying whether this three-dimensional digital camera system can help gain precise mathematical knowledge into trees’ strength, stability and resilience in wind and weather conditions.
The week’s research was aimed at helping tree scientists and arborists identify ways to manage risks in urban or landscape settings where damaged trees can be unsafe or risk property damage, said Gary Watson, PhD, senior research scientist at the Arboretum. His research into tree biomechanics is funded by The Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund), which provides research grants, scholarships and educational programs to advance knowledge in the field of arboriculture and urban forestry.
“On the simplest level it will help arborists determine whether a tree is safe and can be left standing,” said Dr. Watson.”It also can provide another tool for insight into trees resilience when they get wounded and their ability to compensate so we don’t have to take down trees.”