This is my last day in Aarhus. It is raining, but this is different from the stinging cold winter rain on the dark mornings in January. This is spring rain. At home in Tihany, the hillsides are probably covered in Corydalis and the reed warblers are probably nesting and the kayak is ready to take out for a spin again.
The last few weeks have been a crazy rush of writing three papers at once: one just back from review, one with submission due next week and one that we just started from the results we got during my stay. This is great, because it means that we do have results! After we calculated all the possible LIDAR variables I could think of, and after we looked through them in a 39×39 cross-correlation matrix to find the independent ones, and after I learned to do basic General Linear Models in R (the statistics package I was hoping to learn), the moment came where I hit the button and waited to see if it correlates. Yes it does.
Of course, this did not mean that the job is done, we have now spent weeks tweaking and adjusting the statistics and looking at different ways to measure accuracy, but the main message is that LIDAR does explain plant species diversity. Can’t tell you more before we publish :~)
I really enjoyed working together with these people. We did a small two-day LIDAR workshop, which was great because we were a small group with everyone pretty much at the same level of knowledge about GIS and remote sensing and ecology and statistics. I was forced to think over once more what ecologists need to know about LIDAR (and what they don’t), and since this was all small and informal we made great progress. The last day was rounded up with a “data picnic”, a sort of small hackathon where people bring their own data and we play around together trying to find solutions or create small-scale demos. I learned that Puerto Rico has great LIDAR coverage, but it is terribly difficult to get ground returns, since they don’t have a leaf-off season over there. I also learned that Google Street View can be an initial source of “field” data, or at least offers a nice opportunity to look and check what’s there.
I have been to really exciting seminars, about land-cover mapping in the last six thousand years, and grassland restoration in Estonia, and evolution versus migration explaining island alpine species diversity, and about Fantastic Crocodiles and Where to Find Them. So biodiversity science is diverse and exciting and has a lot of open questions, and also (apparently) many opportunities to publish high-profile journal papers. In fact, “what determines species diversity” was selected as one of the 25 most important unknown science questions of the 21st century by Science itself! Compared to Tihany, where I spend most of my days working alone in my lab, it felt like I was learning something new and discussing with people almost every day. Oh yes, and one day my daughter asked me “Daddy, do biologists party all the time?”. When I think of it, we have been really celebrating a lot, from the awesome Christmas party to the champagne round when our professor won a big (big big) grant and the night we went out to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in an irish pub.
But I think what I enjoyed most were the little collaborations that seemed to grow out of the ground. After my intro seminar we talked for half an hour with a colleague who is setting up a hyperspectral LIDAR drone (yes, wow!), and after the LIDAR workshop he is now using OPALS for terrain modelling from image matching point clouds. I calculated a set of LIDAR products for a study area in a national park nearby, we talked about applying fuzzy mapping to RGB images of vegetation in greenland. I even found collaboration for the sleeping trees: now we have a real taxonomist on the team, who can interpret our findings from the perspective of wood anatomy and water transport characteristics of our trees (and also knows their real latin names).
We also have been out and about quite a lot, exploring the shore and the dunes and the viking graves and the beautiful moraine rocks. The dunes sometimes have vegetation that is strikingly similar to the blown sand grasslands (such as Stipa sp.) and alkali meadows in Hungary, the ducks and geese we saw every day were the very ones I was so happy to meet in winter at Lake Balaton. But now my kids also know what a jellyfish looks like and how big a crab can grow and all the different kinds of seaweed and sea shells and sand layers that you find on the beach.
Tomorrow morning we are starting home.