Professor Heiko Balzter

Heiko BalzterProfessor of Physical Geography/ Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research

Holder of the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and the
Royal Geographical Society's Cuthbert Peek Award

Contact Details

  • Telephone: 0116 252 3820
  • Email:
  • Office: Bennett Building, G04 (CLCR)


Prof. Balzter received the degree of Dipl. Ing. agr. (equivalent to MSc) from Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany, in 1994 and the Dr. agr. (PhD) from the same University in 1998. He is a research professor and Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at the University of Leicester and a Co-Investigator in the NERC National Centre for Earth Observation. Prof. Balzter holds the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2011) and the Royal Geographical Society’s Cuthbert Peek Award ‘for advancing geographical knowledge of human impact through earth observation’ (2015).

After his PhD, Prof. Balzter worked in the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Monks Wood, from 1998-2006, as Radar Remote Sensing Specialist, Head of the Biophysical Modelling Group and later Head of Section for Earth Observation. He was appointed to the Chair in Physical Geography at the University of Leicester in 2006 and served as Head of Department of Geography from 2008-2011.

Prof. Balzter is a member of the NERC Food Security Evaluation Working Group, the Steering Committee of the NERC Airborne Remote Sensing Facility, and the AIRSAR Steering Board for the Satellite Applications Catapult and Airbus Defence and Space. He was Principal Investigator of the European Centre of Excellence in Earth Observation Research Training GIONET (€3.5m), and is involved in a broad research programme as principal or co-investigator, including the ESA project GLOBBIOMASS. He is also a fellow of the Higher Education Academy, member of the American Geophysical Union, British Ecological Society, Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society and Chartered Management Institute, as well as fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and the Royal Statistical Society. He won the President’s Cup for the Best Paper at the annual Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society conference 2009 and is a core member of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Peer Review College Panel C.

Research Interests

The Centre for Landscape and Climate Research

I am director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research which specialises in research in field of Spatial Ecohydrology for monitoring of biophysical ecosystem services and natural capital. This involves investigating the complex interactions of the water cycle with biogeochemical cycles and plants and animals in ecosystems. We use ground-based, airborne and spaceborne remote sensing, geospatial analysis methods, high-performance computer model simulations and field survey techniques.

Research in the Centre currently focusses on Earth observation for biodiversity and ecosystem services, pioneering the uses of satellite and other data to measure the spatial patterns and temporal dynamics in ecosystem services provision. Remote sensing of forests and agricultural systems for climate mitigation and food security form the core of this research.

My research focuses on contemporary environmental change processes related to climate change and human impacts on biogeochemical cycles and biophysical systems. As a result of a combination of natural and human-induced processes, climate change is occurring at unprecedented speed. Climate change as a global challenge requires a reliable global monitoring and forecasting system to deliver information that policy makers and business leaders can trust. Satellite remote sensing systems are now delivering operational observations from space that have revealed unknown features of Planet Earth.

A key unknown at present is the role of feedbacks between different Earth system components in determining future trajectories of climate change. In order to better understand land/atmosphere interactions, I am pursuing the following research areas:

Remote sensing of forests

Forest ecosystems play a crucial role in global biogeochemical cycles and in stabilising the climate system. Through heterotrophic and autotrophic respiration and fires they release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and through photosynthetic carbon sequestration they reduce the atmospheric fraction of carbon dioxide. Deforestation is thought to be a major contributing factor to global anthropogenic carbon emissions. Global initiatives such as REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) aim to protect forest resources in support of climate mitigation policies. The geographic locations and strengths of global terrestrial carbon sources and sinks and their temporal variability are still subject to much speculation. I have developed Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and LIDAR techniques for mapping forest canopy height and forest biomass. I am principal investigator in many satellite data exploitation programmes including TerraSAR-X, Tandem-X, Disaster Monitoring Constellation, ENVISAT, ERS-1/2, Sentinel-1 and 2, JERS-1, NovaSAR-S, ALOS and ALOS-2. The paper in Nature by Lynch et al. (2013) makes the case for radar satellites for forest monitoring.

I have had a long-standing involvement in the Copernicus programme that established the European land monitoring core service. In 2014 my group completed the delivery of the UK CORINE land cover map 2012 for the GIO-Land programme. New methods of using radar data from Sentinel-1 were also tested (Balzter et al. 2015). Some of our forest-related research is co-funded by industry, for example on tree disease mapping from airborne data and on forest biomass mapping.

I am scientist-in-charge of the European Centre of Excellence for Earth Observation Research Training “GIONET” (Marie Curie programme, €3,500,000, 2011-2015), which has trained 14 researchers over 4 years in land monitoring and emergency information services from space. In the ESA project GLOBBIOMASS, which has the aim to produce a global forest biomass map, I am leading the task on Regional Case Studies.

The study by Arellano et al. (2015) is one of the top 25 most downloaded papers from Environmental Pollution. It found that remote sensing can detect oil pollution underneath dense rainforest canopies in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Three Recent Publications:

Arellano, P., Tansey, K., Balzter, H. and Boyd, D. (2015): Detecting the effects of hydrocarbon pollution in the Amazon forest using hyperspectral satellite images. Environmental Pollution, 205, 225–239.

Balzter, H., Cole, B., Thiel, C. and Schmullius, C. (2015): Mapping CORINE Land Cover from Sentinel-1 SAR and SRTM Digital Elevation Model using Random Forests. Remote Sensing, 7, 14876-14898.

Lynch, J., Maslin, M., Balzter, H. and Sweeting, M. (2013): Sustainability: Choose satellites to monitor deforestation, Nature, 496, 293-294.

Land/atmosphere interactions

The land surface interacts with the atmosphere through the exchange of carbon, water and energy, and feeds back to climate change processes. Two eddy covariance flux towers on lowland peatland in the East Anglian Fens are continously measuring carbon, water and energy fluxes under different land uses. In my recent paper in the journal Climate (Balzter et al. 2015) we found subtle changes in the temporal scales of variability of Central European air temperature anomalies since 1960 in comparison to the earlier period from 1850-1960, using a technique called Multi-Scale Sample Entropy analysis. This method is able to detect changes in time-series data that are invisible to other standard data analysis methods.

A method for monitoring environmental land condition at continental scale for Africa was devised in our paper by Hoscilo et al. (2015). It found significant drying / wetting trends and greening / browning trends for several regions in Africa and attributed them to climatic and non-climatic drivers.

A study by Rasul et al. (2015) in Urban Climate diagnosed a night-time urban heat island effect and day-time urban cool island in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Three Recent Publications:

Balzter, H., Tate, N.J., Kaduk, J., Harper, D., Page, S., Morrison, R., Muskulus, M. and Jones, P.(2015): Multi-Scale Entropy Analysis as a Method for Time-Series Analysis of Climate Data. Climate, 3(1), 227-240.

Hoscilo, A., Balzter H., Bartholomé, E., Boschetti, M., Brivio, P.A., Brink, A., Clerici, M. and Pekel, J.-F. (2015): A conceptual model for assessing rainfall and vegetation trends in Sub-Saharan Africa from satellite data. International Journal of Climatology. doi: 10.1002/joc.4231.

Rasul, A., Balzter, H. and Smith, C. (2015): Spatial Variation of the Daytime Surface Urban Cool Island During the Dry Season in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, from Landsat 8. Urban Climate, 14, 176–186.

Teaching Interests

My teaching interests are in Earth Observation and how it can be used to assess ecosystem services. I currently teach on the MSc module GY7310-Geographical Analysis of Ecosystem Services.

PhD Supervision

Research Areas for PhD Supervision

Forests and Peatlands/Biochemistry and Environmental Change

Forest monitoring, Earth observation, Remote Sensing, Satellites, Deforestation, REDD+

I am interested in supervising students on the following topics:

  • Methods for using the Copernicus Sentinel satellites for forest monitoring (tree diseases, biomass, disturbances)
  • Democratisation of access to free Earth observation data of forests
  • Non-carbon benefits of preserving forest ecosystems

Enquiries: If you are interested in studying for a PhD in the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research (CLCR), please make informal enquiries via or

Find out more information about Geography PhDs including more research areas, how to apply, funding and entry requirements.


Find out more about our current research postgraduates.

StudentThesis Title Other Supervisor(s)
Chloe Barnes Remote sensing methods for the identification of trees affected by invasive phytopathogens Dr Kirsten Barrett, James Eddy (Bluesky International) and Dr Juan Suarez (Forest Research)
Alex Cumming Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture on drained organic soils in eastern England Dr Jorg Kaduk and Prof Sue Page
Mark Collins UAV mounted ground-penetrating radar for archaeology applications Dr Mark Gillings (Dept of Archaeology)
Othman El-Shakmak Synthetic Aperture Radar remote sensing of forests in Libya Dr Claire Jarvis
Isah Hamisu Climate Change Impacts on Grazing Animal Health in Nigeria Dr Jorg Kaduk
Andrea Hurtado de Mendoza Rosales Determining the effect of plant carbon allocation on the Climate–Carbon Cycle Feedback through variational Data Assimilation Dr Jorg Kaduk
Yahaya Ibrahim Assessment of sensitive areas to desertification risk in semi-arid North-western Nigeria using GIS and Remote Sensing Techniques Dr Jorg Kaduk
Sa'ad Ibrahim Savanna tree/grass mapping from MODIS time-series analysis Dr Kevin Tansey
Ghazanfar Khattak Glacier Dynamics and Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, North Pakistan Dr Stewart Fishwick (Dept of Geology)
Valentin Louis Monitoring tropical forest clearance and plantation forest dynamics Paul Fearn (Geospatial Insight) and Prof Sue Page
Peshawa Najmaddin Evaluation of runoff depth for large catchment area by using remote sensing and GIS techniques to rain water harvesting Dr Mick Whelan
Ramesh Ningthoujam Deforestation Monitoring and retrieval of forest biophysical parameters from S-band Synthetic Aperture Radar Dr Kevin Tansey
Narissara Nuthammachot Deforestation monitoring in Thailand using remote sensing Dr Kevin Tansey
Ajoke Onojeghuo An analysis of air pollution in the Niger delta from remote sensing Prof Paul Monks (Dept of Chemistry)
Nkeiruka Onyia Assessment of methods for monitoring oil spill impacts on biodiversity in Nigeria Dr Juan-Carlos Berrio
Gong Pan Methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from a regenerating fenland in Cambridgeshire – FENFLUX Dr Jorg Kaduk and Prof Sue Page
Ana Maria Pacheco Pascagaza Forest Clearance and Plantation Forest Dynamics Dr Kirsten Barrett
Thomas Potter Integrating forest allometric models, LiDAR and SAR remote sensing for monitoring deforestation and forest degradation at global scale Dr Kevin Tansey and Prof Nick Veck (Satellite Applications Catapult)
Azad Rasul Investigating the urban heat island effect in the city of Erbil, Iraq using RS and GIS Dr Claire Smith
Bernard Spies Multi-temporal, multi-frequency SAR for landscape dynamics
James Wheeler Forest monitoring of the Congo Basin using L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Dr Kevin Tansey


StudentThesis TitleLevel of AwardYear Awarded
Pedro Rodriguez-Veiga Global biomass information system PhD 2015
Hao Wang Impacts of Changes in the Regional Water Cycle and Climate Change on Carbon Fluxes the East Anglian Fens MPhil 2015
Prem Pandey Detecting and analysing the spread of exotic Acacias in West-Mediterranean biodiverse costal dunes with hyperspectral images and LiDAR PhD 2015
Dimitris Stratoulias Dynamics and conservation ecology of emergent and submerged macrophytes in Lake Balaton using airborne remote sensing PhD 2015
Stephanie Palmer Satellite remote sensing of water quality (chlorophyll and suspended sediment) using MODIS and ship-mounted LIDAR PhD 2014
Paul Arellano Hyperspectral remote sensing for detecting vegetation affected by hydrocarbons in the amazon forest PhD 2014
Zeinab Rezaee Ardestani GIS for assessing flood vulnerability in the UK PhD 2013
Umar Bibi The impact of climate variability and land cover change in North-eastern Nigeria PhD 2013
Ross Morrison Carbon fluxes from a regenerating fenland in Cambridgeshire PhD 2013
Lorraine Tighe Empirical assessment of commercial X/C/L-HH Band InSAR elevation data: Implications for canopy height mapping PhD 2012
Ehsan Khalefa Remote Sensing of savannah landscape structure using the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System PhD 2012
Bashar Dahdal The use of interferometric spaceborne radar and GIS to measure ground subsidence from peat soils in Indonesia PhD 2011
Darren Ghent Land Surface Modelling and Earth Observation of Land/Atmosphere Interactions in African Savannahs PhD 2010
Gareth Mottram Fire radiative power retrieval over boreal Eurasia PhD 2009
Daniel Smith Soil respiration in a fire scar chronosequence of Canadian boreal jack pine forest PhD 2009
Laine Skinner Estimating forest parameters from Synthetic Aperture Radar: A case study of Thetford Forest PhD 2002

Impact, Enterprise and Outreach

I am a member of the editorial board of the MDPI journal “Remote Sensing" whose impact factor of 3.18 places it in the top 5 journals in the field of remote sensing in 2015. I am a national representative for the UK on the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Programme Board, a member of the NERC Expert Group on Food Security, and an expert group by the Valuing Nature Network on ‘Key principles of economic valuation’.

Industrial companies often support research financially, and I have active collaborations with the Satellite Applications Catapult, Bluesky International, Astrium Geoinformation, Sterling Geo, Geospatial Insight, Ukall Ltd. and a number of other companies.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a member of the American Geophysical Union, British Ecological Society, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and member of the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society as well as the Chartered Management Institute.


Take a look at my Google Scholar profile for a full list of publications.

  1. P Arellano, K Tansey, H Balzter, DS Boyd - Environmental Pollution205, 225-239, 2015
  2. H Balzter, B Cole, C Thiel, C Schmullius - Remote Sensing, 7, 14876-14898, 2015
  3. H Balzter, NJ Tate, J Kaduk, D Harper, S Page… - Climate, 3, 227-240, 2015
  4. MS Boori, H Balzter, K Choudhary, V Vozenílek - Journal of Geology and Geophysics, 4, 223, 2015
  5. A Hoscilo, H Balzter, E Bartholomé, M Boschetti… - International Journal of Climatology, 35, 3582–3592, 2014

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