A study by researchers at Rice University has revealed what species of tree could be used to best fight rising levels of pollution in Houston, Texas. This discovery could give the ability for similar combinations to be used worldwide and implemented around metropolitan areas and cities.
To begin, the researchers wanted to find out what species of tree would be most effective at soaking up CO2 and other pollutants in the city, drink in water, stabilize the landscape during floods and provide a canopy to lessen the intensity of heat. For this task, a data scientist from the Department of Statistics was brought in, helping to gather and analyse data and create maps to decide where mass plantings would be most effective. Using the city of Houston as an example, the team of researchers analysed and selected which species would be most suitable for the selected criteria.
"These maps help people understand that their little pocket neighbourhoods are connected to the bigger picture," Rice alumna Laura Campos, a data scientist in the Department of Statistics said. "They help us bring in all the players to get them to realize how everything is interconnected and how public health can benefit with every step forward."
The study, which was conducted by Rice University in Texas, planted over 7,500 ‘super trees’ on several sites, from an assortment of 14 different plant species. They also removed any other invasive species, which could be a potential threat, giving the plants a better opportunity to strive and thrive.
Notably Live Oaks appeared to be the best at soaking up CO2 and other pollutants, however sycamore trees seemed to be equally as effective at absorbing other pollutants, as well as being more effective at reducing heat levels and lessening the effects of flooding, by absorbing more water, despite absorbing less CO2. These two trees were the top contenders in terms of effectiveness, alongside 15 other ‘super trees’, where performance was also impressive, however not quite enough to rival the top two.
The plantation of these trees has the potential to provide many benefits, such as making cities more liveable and helping to improve climate and health in certain urban areas. Already, thanks to the new data gathered from the study, changes are already beginning to take place in Houston, where changes can be monitored to identify benefits.
Another positive impact is that this gathering of data and knowledge can then be shared around the globe, and hopefully implemented in further projects over time, helping to build greener communities and combat the effects of climate change.
"This project proves that engaging people from various sectors leads to innovative strategies to address climate change," said Loren Hopkins, who is a professor in the practice of statistics, environmental analysis at Rice University. "Ultimately, these types of collaborations must extend into corporate board rooms to make a substantial impact."