BYU Geospatial Services lab presents tree coverage study to Provo City Council

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Students from the Geospatial Services lab speak to the Provo City Council about their findings. The students estimate they spent more than a combined 150 hours on their tree coverage analysis. (Ethan Pack)

BYU Geospatial Services lab students presented the results of their months-long analysis of Provo’s tree coverage to Provo City Council on Tuesday, March 20.

Matthew Rowley, Josh Newman, Abbie Crookston, Jacob Bellows and Andrew Miller spoke to the city council about their efforts to analyze how much tree coverage Provo has, a task given to them by the city, according to Teresa Gomez, geospatial data analysis and technology specialist.

Gomez manages the Geospatial Services lab and led the students during their analysis.

“This was not an easy task, right? There’s a lot of information, there was a lot of trial and error … it was a lot of work,” she said. 

The Geospatial Services and Training lab helps students, faculty and staff with map-related projects and needs, according to the information on the Harold B. Lee library website.

The lab received the request from the city council in the summer of 2023, Gomez said. Understanding how much of Provo is covered by trees is an important aspect of the city’s Conservation and Resiliency plan, according to the meeting agenda.

The team used geographic information systems to analyze several maps together. These systems allowed the teams to compare and contrast aerial images with topographical maps in order to better determine tree coverage, Gomez said.

The majority of time spent on the project went toward gathering data from aerial light detection and ranging scans and satellite photos, Matthew Rowley, one of the students who worked on the project, said. 

“It was kind of a start to finish project, which is more than we usually do, where we had to figure out what data we were going to use and how we were going to manipulate the data to get what we wanted to give back to Provo,” he said.

According to the students, 17% of Provo is covered by trees. Along with determining tree coverage, the team developed a land coverage model, led by Andrew Miller, a geography major.

“Tree coverage is just one part of the land cover program. There’s also buildings and asphalt and all this other stuff,” he said.

By running aerial photos and other maps through geographic information systems, Miller made a multipurpose model that shows how much land area things like buildings, grass and asphalt use.

“I made a land cover, which can be used for whatever you want,” he said.

Andrew Miller, Josh Newman, Abbie Crookston, Matthew Rowley and Jacob Bellows were the students who presented their findings to the council on Tuesday, March 20. Teresa Gomez, pictured third from left, is the Geospatial Services lab manager. (Teresa Gomez)

Because of the length of the project, some students who originally began to map tree coverage in Provo weren’t available to present on Tuesday.

“They’re in grad school in another job. So that’s also why it took a little while because we had a little rotation in between, but it’s fun and I think the students feel very rewarded, to see that something that you’re doing is actually so meaningful for the city,” Gomez said.

During their presentation, the students expressed how useful maps are to city development.

“The hope we have is just that (Provo City) uses maps more and that they’re able to see how much they can use (geographic information systems),” Abbie Crookston, a wildlife and wildlands conservation major, said. 

The team said they were grateful for the project, as it gave them the opportunity to give back to the community, Gomez said.

“Contributing to where you call home is something that makes us who we are as BYU students, as a BYU community. We are here to serve. So this is a way that in our own realm of expertise, we can serve by mapping,” she said.

More information about Provo sustainability efforts, of which the Geospatial Services study was a part, can be found at the Provo city website.

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