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Tree Root Architecture Research

May Help Guide Future Levee Maintenance Policy

Excavated root architecture is documented with high resolution 3D lidar.

River Partners is providing technical assistance to Dr. Alison Berry at the University of California Davis, who is leading an exciting research project that takes place partially in the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Berry and her dedicated staff are using a high pressure air spade to excavate the soil around the roots of several trees growing on and near levees in the Central Valley. The data they collect will be used to help evaluate how tree roots influence levee structures. Standing trees and surrounding levee slopes are mapped with high resolution T-LiDAR which can be manipulated to produce a detailed 3D image of the existing tree and levee. Then the air spade is used to excavate major roots in place. Once fully excavated, another 3D image is collected to map the direction and size of roots that have developed in the levee.

An excavated cottonwood at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge is painted with silver paint to facilitate LiDAR imaging.

It is expected that this research, coupled with ongoing research on topics such as burrowing mammal interactions, tree windfall characteristics and vegetative roughness for various native plant species in the floodway, will help us develop a more scientific understanding of the interactions between habitat structure and flood control facilities in the Central Valley. Dr. Berry’s research is sponsored by the multi-agency California Levee Vegetation Research Program and funded through grants from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA).

The above article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of the River Partners Journal.