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Each tree has a "cost". And smart technologies help to define it...

Each tree has a "cost". And smart technologies help to define it...

About Tree Talkers and soil structures, proper environmental management for sustainable urban development — in an interview with Elvira Davletyarov, Director of the Agrarian and Technological Institute of RUDN University.

What projects is the laboratory “Smart Technologies Laboratory for Sustainable Urban Development in the context of global changes” working on?

One of the most interesting projects is the development and development of a green space monitoring system using the Tree Talker smart device. We are developing the project not only in Moscow, but also in St. Petersburg, Voronezh, Rostov-on-don. This project was launched in Russia, and the results, I am sure, will be used all over the world. Plus, the project involves not only biologists and ecologists, but also IT specialists.

Tell us how does Tree Talker work? What information can be recorded using the sensor?

Tree Talker — a smart device that we attach to the tree, and it determines how the process of SAP flow takes place. The tree also has its own vascular system: our body fills the blood, and the tree is the juices that flow to the tissues through the phloem and xylem (approx. tissues in which the vessels of plants are located). The main function of the tree is the absorption of carbon dioxide and the release of oxygen. The sensor determines how intense the life of the tree is. This is done by analyzing SAP flow, temperature, and photosynthetic activity. Tree Talker can determine the volume of the photosynthetic surface of a tree. When we have such information, we can answer the questions: does the tree have the necessary foliage, how much oxygen does it emit?

What other sensors are used in the project?

There is another special sensor that we put together with Tree Talker. It’s called the TT-G. This device determines the angle of the tree, which is very important in a modern urban environment. Many trees in cities experience stress, under the influence of which they change the angle of inclination. This is very dangerous, for example, during a hurricane: the strengthening of the wind leads to the breaking and falling of trees on people, cars, buildings. TT-G solves this problem by alerting us in case of “danger”. In addition to these sensors, there is another device, it is called Tree Cloud. This sensor collects daily data about the state of trees and transmits them to a cloud server. Through the cloud, the measurements are transmitted to the site, and the results are made available to researchers. We do not remove sensors — they are constantly on the trees of our campus, and we have collected a large amount of data-the device makes a measurement every hour.

What else does the lab do?

The second topic that we are working on is a quick analysis of the environment. We are currently working on a project with the Russian science Foundation to test rapid methods for determining the state of soil, water and air. There is a good and fashionable abroad device “XRF”, but we do not have a standard methodology for its use. It looks like a gun. The principle of operation is quite simple: you take any soil in the bag, substitute this" gun", and it immediately gives information about the content of heavy metals. It is very fast and convenient for ordinary household use. For example, you need to understand what the state of the soil is when you plant carrots in your dacha. It takes a long time to select the soil, go with it to the laboratory and wait for the results. It’s easier when an expert came to you, determined the content of heavy metals in one minute and immediately told you what fertilizers are needed to improve the soil.

Your goal is to give practical recommendations in a very short time?

Our goal is not to give recommendations, but to quickly evaluate them. However, the device " XRF " is not studied in Russia. Therefore, we strive to create techniques to make it more widely used. Our colleagues from the Urban Soils Institute (USA), for example, only work with him.

Can we track the state of the soil, and influence it? As the technology for assessment of soil condition can be used in the modern urban environment?

Our theme is sustainable urban development. We deal with urban issues and work in the city, as it is the center of concentration of the population. For example, you want to sow a lawn in the Murmansk region, and it is very cold there. Moreover, there is also a large amount of heavy metal emissions-as a result of mining. This is a double negative effect on plants, very difficult conditions. But the lawn is a necessary part of any landscape of the city, it should be in the city. After the analysis, we change the plan of added substances to the soil so that the lawn grows better in harsh climatic conditions.

We know that there is a tendency in the world to evaluate the benefits that a certain part of the ecosystem can provide. Is it even possible to calculate how much benefit a certain part of the ecosystem gives and whether there are similar practices in Russia?

Possible. Ecosystem services are well established all over the world. They determine the amount of benefit that any part of the ecosystem gives us. For example, we have a tree growing here. We know how much this tree can cost if you buy it from a nursery and plant it, but this cost is just the cost of planting material. We cannot define and say exactly: “How much benefit does this tree give to the environment?”. And it gives a lot if this tree stands, for example, near our window.

We do not have such practices in Russia. There used to be the term “environmental damage”. Everyone considered it, but the fact is that environmental damage takes into account how much needs to be done to improve the ecosystem, and then not in full. “Damage” does not consider the most important thing — lost profits. Therefore, now in Russia such studies are conducted not only by environmentalists, but also by economists. Having determined the lost profit legally, we will facilitate the work of lawyers, everyone will know the exact cost. Our laboratory is engaged in research in this area, there are grants for ecosystem services.

How it works?

The first and main function of a tree is to produce oxygen, but trees also retain dust. It turns out that the more broad-leaved trees in the urban environment, the less dust we inhale, the less dust settles in our lungs. The tree gives us a recreational environment: we can sit under the tree, admire it, this tree brings us satisfaction. Our colleagues from the UK argue that the more trees in the area of human habitation, the more effective the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The number of heart attacks and strokes decreases, pressure drops no longer bother people, they go on sick leave less. One tree can bring benefits disproportionately greater than the cost of planting material. Moreover, this benefit has learned to count. For example, if you and I live in London and we want to cut down a tree, we have to pay a fine. The damage caused to the ecosystem and people is taken into account. Every tree in the UK has a “value” — the amount of benefit it brings. Therefore, when people in Britain go to court, they know exactly what benefits they have missed, and how much more needs to be invested to restore the ecosystem.

It turns out that the soil is the basis of everything? Why is everything “considered” with the help of soil?

Soil is the foundation of any ecosystem. The tree grows in the soil, and we can assess its condition. When we need to do ecomonitoring of a block or on the RUDN campus, we can no longer count on a free-standing tree. For a comprehensive assessment, we take the soil as the base of this ecosystem.

What city in the world would You like to live in?

I would like to live only in Moscow. Let me explain why. We evaluated the soils of new York, Moscow, Paris, and Rome. Our small research group managed to find out that the least heavy metals in the soils of Moscow. In the United States, the content of heavy metals in the soil exceeds the norm by more than 10 times.

The low content of heavy metals is explained by the fact that environmental standards and regulations have not changed in our country since the 20th century. At that time, only the birth of transport was taking place — in cities there was not such a huge flow of cars. Times have changed, but the norms have remained, and the most stringent in the world. I believe that the old norms need to be revised, because they are irrelevant.

Moscow is a great place to live. Of course, our climate is harsh, but despite the fact that new York, Paris and Rome are warmer, this does not affect the quality of our life. Now we have the opportunity to move by transport, a lot of green areas, and their number is growing every year. The image of our city is changing every day.

Could you point out some trends that are not yet taken into account in Russia?

All over the world, the focus is now on the sociology of the city — this is necessary for competent planning of urban space. Any object must meet certain requirements and bring funds. Even during the construction of a residential quarter, it is necessary to take into account what will be required by those who will live there. Therefore, it is necessary to plan everything with sociologists so that everyone is comfortable.

For example, Brooklyn College has a program of study “Urban planning” — it is led by a sociologist. And this is correct — before you build an object in the city, you need to consider three important aspects: how it will fit into the social sphere (for whom and for what it is built), whether we will be able to contain the object and how it will look.

If we build a Park, it unloads the urban environment and infrastructure. People rest and recuperate, and therefore get sick less. But if our Park is not popular among residents, it is bad, the city constantly suffers losses. It is very important to understand why this is happening. Sociologists can answer such questions. I consider urbanists and urban sociology very important for the development of the urban environment: first we must plan the territory correctly, and only then — build objects. Our team also has a PhD in sociology, which is very important.

Interviewed by Ekaterina Buzykina and Farid Shirinov

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03 Nov 2017
Michele Pagano is a graduate of the University of Pisa, a leading scientist, the author of more than 200 publications in international journals, and a participant in many international research projects
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