Catena & Thermography
Catena & Thermography
Catena & Thermography
"Treethermography® since 1984"
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We applied this tool to many research sectors, from polluted water bodies to bathing waters, from the management of sanitary landfills to vegetation, as it proved an accurate indicator of environmental pollution. Also in ecology, we were the first or among the first ones to use thermal images for wild animal censuses in Italy, and suggested the use of the technique to study bat populations.

We first worked with trees at the La Sapienza University Botanic Garden, Rome, where, thanks to the professional skills of the then Curator, Dr Mario Catalano, we successfully examined a nettle-tree (Celtis australis) that had a significant cavity. At first, we had no botanical knowledge, and thought that the method could only detect cavities, or decay at most, even with no visible sign on the bark, as a consequence, we published articles on the method as such in specialised arboricultural journals (without much success, to be honest). Years later, with the method's working procedure understood, more experience developed thanks to hundreds of trees examined and a growing understanding of tree structure and physiology, we realised that the system could sense decay as a lack of healthy tissue and, as a consequence, as a vitality deficit. However, with the method still being unaccepted, we kept talking of its capacity to detect decay without mentioning tree vitality and rejuvenation tissue, even when this is not visible from the outside, until 2000.

When we started understanding plant physiology, we realised the possible implications of the method, but were always confronted with indifference, or rather the haughtiness and hostile silence of the academic world and a good portion of the entrepreneurial world that saw in the method a possible threat to their ideas, acquired skills, leadership, and the amortisation schemes of the invasive apparatuses they bought, let alone those who sold them. A famous phytopathologist said and urged undergraduate students to write in their dissertations that thermography cannot work because of the low thermal conductivity of wood. Pity he didn't understand that if wood had the high thermal conductivity of metal, no surface temperature difference could be spotted. 

A few years after Lanfranco Palla retired, Alessandra Catena joined me to prepare her dissertation in Forestry and research made a step forward, thanks to her specific arboricultural knowledge; we then prepared presentations that we delivered at congresses in Italy and abroad, where the system aroused a certain interest. It was only thanks to my presentations abroad delivered after I resigned from the ISS in 2003, that the technique started to be appreciated and reached success with the presentations delivered by Dr Alessandra Catena at the 6th ISA European Conference in Maastricht (Netherlands, 2004), that led to a one-year contract with BTL Bomendienst which aimed to disseminate Thermography in the Netherlands. The method is now hailed abroad for the perspectives that it opens and the possible applications in sectors such as ecology. Some of these sectors have already been explored by the two inventors of the technique, other uses were only hypothetical and were not explored for lack of specific knowledge - we turned "botanists", we should have turned "biologists" and honestly we didn't feel like doing this - but we suggested these possible uses to experts in the various fields.

The system is there, available to everyone, and modern cameras are technical masterpieces: they have a battery, store images on a magnetic medium, are equipped with uncooled sensors, can measure temperatures in every point of the image, are portable and very practical - they only weigh 300g, and take visible images of the scene examined at the same time the thermal image is shot, etc.

Only the publications in English and French and the presentations delivered at international Congresses can be found on this website so as to offer an overview of the trees examined. To confidently apply the method, users need to familiarise with the apparatus and measure a few tens of trees. It is very useful to examine many different species to see how different barks are rendered on the images: the bark of an umbrella pine or a cork oak appears very differently on a thermal image from a beech or a laurel tree. This may lead to interpretation problems for a non expert user.

A short introductory course that is tailor-made to suit users' background conveys the experience developed over years of very diverse investigations and situations and gives students the possibility to work alone and autonomously conduct tree assessment procedures on the spot, while they are conducting the measurement. A dedicated software provided by the various camera producers is the only one that we use and exclusively serves to rebuild thermal images of the whole tree at a later stage (mosaic) and draw up the reports relative to the investigations conducted.


Lanfranco Palla preparing the equipment before a helicopter flight (around 1985).

Lanfranco Palla preparing the equipment before a helicopter flight (around 1985).


Aerial TI for Fallow Deer Census

Aerial TI for Fallow Deer Census


A Damaged Lime (Tilia spp.)

A Damaged Lime (Tilia spp.)


Small Decay

Small Decay


33, Via Peveragno - 00166 Rome - Italy Tel/Fax +39(0)6 6637187 Mob: +39 340 7016037 
E-mail: giorgio.catena@treethermography.it

Skype address "gioca2010"

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