4 September 2020

Geographer receives 1.7 million. Euro in an ERC Starting Grant


Geographer Martin Brandt receives just over DKK 1.7 million. Euro in an ERC Starting Grant, to the projektet TOFDRY, (Trees outside forests in global drylands).

Drylands cover approximately 65 million km² of the Earth’s land surface but their tree and shrub cover is a major unknown in terrestrial research. This is because a large proportion of dryland trees grow isolated without canopy closure and most scientific and non-scientific interest is devoted to forests, while the density and size of trees outside of forests is not well documented.

However, these non-forest trees play a crucial role for biodiversity and provide ecosystem services such as carbon storage, food resources, livelihoods and shelter for humans and animals.

The limited attention devoted to the quantification of dryland trees leads to an underrepresentation of non-forest trees in development strategies and climate \vegetation models, and the economic and ecological importance of non-forest trees is largely unknown at large scale.

The project will work towards a wall-to-wall identification of trees in global drylands, and study their ecological services and socio-environmental determinants. The breakthrough is that trees are not assessed as canopy fraction of an area, but as individuals, allowing to identify not only their coverage but also their density, crown size, and key ecological services.

The project will apply a new generation of satellite imagery at sub-meter resolution and extensive field data in conjunction with fully convolutional neural networks, a deep learning technique being able to identify objects within imagery at an unprecedented accuracy.

In doing so, it will lay the groundwork for new insights into the contribution of human agency and climate change to the distribution of dryland trees and their role in mitigating degradation, climate change and poverty.