Professor Heiko Balzter

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

Royal Society, Wolfson Research Merit Award,

Royal Geographical Society, Cuthbert Peek Award,

Copernicus Masters, Sustainable Living Award


Contact details

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

Personal details

Dipl.Ing. agr, Dr. agr. (PhD)

I am a research professor and Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at the University of Leicester. I chair the Programme Coordination Team of the UKRI Landscape Decisions Programme which has over 50 constituent funded projects. In the National Centre for Earth Observation, I lead the Official Development Assistance Programme. I hold the Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award (2011), the Royal Geographical Society’s Cuthbert Peek Award ‘for advancing geographical knowledge of human impact through earth observation’ (2015) and the Copernicus Masters Award (Sustainable Living Challenge 2017) for my work on deforestation monitoring.

I 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. After my PhD, I 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. I 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.

I am a member of the LULUCF (Land Use / Land Use Change and Forestry) Scientific Steering Committee for the UK National Greenhouse Gas Account. Previously, I was Principal Investigator of the European Centre of Excellence in Earth Observation Research Training GIONET (€3.5m), and principal or co-investigator in many Earth observation projects including the ESA projects GLOBBIOMASS, BIOMASS CCI+ and ForestMind and the UK Space Agency International Partnership Projects Forests2020 and EASOS. I am 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.

Impact, enterprise and outreach

I am a member of the editorial board of the MDPI journal “Remote Sensing", one of the leading journals in its field. I served as national representative for the UK on the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Programme Board, on 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 worked together with the Satellite Applications Catapult, Bluesky International, Airbus, Geospatial Insight, Telespazio, CGI, and a number of other companies.



I am module convenor of the MSc module GY7709 Satellite Data Analysis in Python and contribute lectures to other modules.


My publications can be accessed on Google Scholar.


I am director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research. My research over the past 20 years has made extensive use of advanced Earth observation and remote sensing. My most significant contributions to knowledge in the discipline in remote sensing of forest biomass (Balzter et al., 2007a, 2007b, 2002; Garcia et al., 2017; Gaveau et al., 2003; Ningthoujam et al., 2017; Rodriguez-Veiga et al., 2019, 2016; Rodriguez-Veiga et al., 2020; Rodríguez-Veiga et al., 2017) have contributed to the establishment of ESA’s Climate Change Initiative and the BIOMASS satellite mission (Le Toan et al., 2011). I have pioneered machine learning applications to satellite data (Balzter et al., 2015; Pourshamsi et al., 2018) and developed ‘big satellite data’ solutions such as an automated processing chain for Sentinel-2 images to detect deforestation with machine learning (random forests) published as an open source Python package (Roberts et al., 2020). These methods were implemented in organisations in Kenya, Colombia and elsewhere (Forests 2020 project, BBC report) and won a European Copernicus Masters Award.

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.

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. Some of our forest-related research is co-funded by industry, for example on tree disease mapping from airborne data (Barnes et al. 2017).

PhD Supervision

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

I am interested in supervising students on the following topics:

  • Novel uses of Earth observation and models for ecosystem services
  • Methods for using the Copernicus Sentinel satellites for forest monitoring (tree diseases, biomass, disturbances)
  • 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.

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School of Geography, Geology and the Environment
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T: 0116 252 3933

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