Remote sensing tree functionality in urban infrastructure

Grantham Scholar Raoul Blackman is researching how urban trees respond to anthropogenic drivers. 

The project

The population of cites is continuing to rise, and with increasing urban habitation comes a demand for a hospitable environment. Research has shown the benefits (ecosystem services) of green infrastructure to the urban environment, e.g., mitigation of the heat island effect, reduction in storm water runoff, pollution mitigation, and mental wellbeing.

Trees within the urban forest are an integral part of urban green infrastructure; however, there has been minimal research on how different tree species in different locations respond to potentially negative (e.g., encasement, changed light regimes, drought, and heat stress) or positive (e.g., longer growing seasons and increased nitrogen availability) anthropogenic drivers in the urban environment.

This lack of knowledge will be addressed by pursuing three specific objectives within the urban forest in the City of Sheffield, UK: 1. To develop remote sensing techniques to enable the mapping of street tree physiological health at scales from the individual tree to the streetscape; 2. To investigate the impacts of urban anthropogenic and built environment drivers on tree carbon uptake, transpiration rate, and phenology; and 3. To determine the most resilient trees to plant in an urban environment.

These objectives will be met by collecting and analysing mobile terrestrial remote sensing data (light detection and ranging (LiDAR), hyperspectral, and thermal) in conjunction with measured data from existing in situ sensor networks (Urban Tree Observatory and Urban Flows Observatory air quality) and field data, to determine tree stress, water, and carbon fluxes. The overall aim of the research is to understand how different tree species in different locations physiologically respond and acclimate to the urban environment. The findings from the work will be crucial for planning and maintaining a healthy urban forest that significantly contributes to a sustainable green infrastructure within our ever-expanding cities.


The Grantham Centre at COP. Every year, we send Grantham Scholars to COP as official observers for the University of Sheffield. Doing so gives our people an opportunity to see how global climate change policy is made – or not – and to meet other sustainability experts. In 2022, Raoul was one of the group who went to Egypt for COP27.

Find Raoul Blackman on social media

You can find Raoul on LinkedIn.

And you can also find him on Twitter.


Blackman, R.; Yuan, F. Detecting Long-Term Urban Forest Cover Change and Impacts of Natural Disasters Using High-Resolution Aerial Images and LiDAR DataRemote Sens. 202012, 1820.


Dr Holly Croft

School of Biosciences


Dr Danielle Densley Tingley

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering