Mathias Disney

Reader in Remote Sensing, UCL

I am a Reader in Remote Sensing in the Department of Geography and member of the Environmental Monitoring and Modelling Group. I am also a member of the NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), and am funded through the Carbon Cycle theme. I was also involved in the precursor NERC Centre for Terrestrial Carbon Dynamics.

My background was a BSc in physics, followed by our very own UCL MSc in remote sensing. I then studied radiative transfer modelling of crop canopies for my PhD, using detailed 3D models to explore the information content of moderate resolution satellite data, to test simpler models and validate new (at the time!) satellite albedo products based on these simpler approaches. This led to work with NASA colleagues on the MODIS BRDF/albedo product, amongst other things.

My research is more generally in the interactions of radiation (predominantly at optical wavelengths) with the land surface. In particular I am interested in how radiation interacts with vegetation, how we can model and understand this interaction and how we can exploit it to quantify and understand the terrestrial biosphere, particular relate to the carbon cycle - how plants take up and release carbon, naturally, in response to changing climate and under an increasing range of anthropogenic disturbances (eg fire, land use change, agriculture, deforestation and degradation etc). Satellites allow us large-scale but very indirect observations of surface biophysical properties, particularly the extent and dynamics of vegetation. Much of my research effort has been directed at new ways of exploiting observations of this sort to provide quantitative estimates of these things that are consistent with our understanding of climate carbon cycle models and observations. The image below sums up our aims - this shows an area of temperate rainforest on Fraser Island, Northern Queensland, Australia. The variety of structure (shadows, texture) and variations in leaf colour (to do with chlorophyll and water content) is very striking. My aim is to understand and exploit this 'signal' much better than we can do currently, for all sorts of applications that rely on knowing the state of forests like this.

I've developed a wide range of research interests in how we measure and understand the Earth system, using satellite data, ground data, models, you name it! I've focused a lot on 3D measurement and modelling over recent times, particularly using new lidar methods such as terrestrial laser scanning. You can find out more about what I do, and some of the exciting places we've been working, on my lidar research blog. I collaborate widely; I'm a firm believer that sharing data & ideas etc. means we all move forward faster. Perhaps more importantly, working with other people opens my eyes to new ways of doing things and generates potential new areas of research.