Our research interests include the following topics

In physical geography:

  • Global change effects on Arctic environment
  • Biogeography and macroecology of aquatic and terrestrial systems
  • Species distribution modelling
  • Big data, GIS and remote sensing in physical geography
  • Physical-chemical quality and ecological status of aquatic systems

In human & urban geography and spatial planning:

  • Transformation and segregation in the social and physical urban environment
  • The changing rationalities and concepts of regional and urban planning
  • Regional policy and geopolitics
  • Urbanisation and changing relationships between state and cities, and internationalisation of cities and states
  • The spatial planning system of the European Union
  • The political ecology and management of natural resources and land use

In geoinformatics:

  • Spatial data analysis, new information sources
  • Development of remote-sensing methods for environmental study, especially hyper-spectral remote-sensing data and drone applications
  • Application of geoinformatics methods to environmental and urban research
Aquatic Community Ecology Group

In Aquatic Community Ecology Group we study community ecology, biogeography and macroecology and use unicellular organisms in aquatic ecosystems as model system to test general ecological theories. Our studies are also useful for biodiversity conservation in freshwaters and for biological monitoring. We investigate freshwater biodiversity across a broad range of scales from local to global study extents. In addition to freshwater ecosystems, we also examine spatial patterns in diatom biodiversity along the Baltic Sea coastal areas.

Our major research topics include:

  • Biodiversity in freshwaters
  • Regulation of diversity by local and regional forces
  • Global patterns in beta diversity
  • Biogeography of diatoms
  • Metacommunity ecology
  • Diversity-productivity relationships and ecosystem functioning
  • Microbial macroecology

Read more from our ACEG blog.

BioGeo­Cli­mate Mod­el­ling Lab

The BioGeoClimate Modelling Lab is focused on the spatial and temporal modelling of Earth systems, particularly patterns and processes concerning biogeography, geomorphology, and climatology, and their interactions. Modern GIS and remote sensing methods, such as remotely piloted aircraft systems, are used to study the drivers and mechanisms governing ecosystems and landscapes. Besides theoretical and methodological interests in understanding and predicting species distributions, earth surface processes, and biosphere-atmosphere interactions, BioGeoClimate Modelling Lab develops models for different applied purposes in physical geography. The lab aims to assess the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity, ground surface conditions, and vegetation and soil dynamics. To explore these topics, the lab is leading observational and experimental studies, statistical analyses of empirical data and mathematical simulations, including bioclimate modelling and data mining. The main study area is in the Scandinavian Mountains, a high-latitude landscape in northernmost Finland and Norway. The BioGeoClimate Modelling Lab also works at larger areas – in Finland, Arctic, Europe, and globally – in order to understand the structure and functioning of ecosystems and landscapes at multiple scales.

Read more from the research group pages: BioGeoClimate Modelling Lab

More information also from Miska Luoto, Professor in Physical Geography

Digital geo­graphy

The Digital Geography Lab uses novel big (and open) data sources and cutting-edge analyses to support sustainable spatial planning and decision making. The group takes advantage of data sources such as social media data, mobile phone call detail records or public transport timetables together with remotely sensed and register data to carry out advanced spatial analyses of accessibility and mobility patterns, conservation opportunities and threats, or illegal wildlife trade trafficking. The Digital Geography group aims to be a forerunner in open science practices, sharing research-based tools and research data with different actors in the society. Research is conducted at various spatial scales in Finland, Estonia, South Africa, Madagascar and Uruguay, extending to continental and global scales.

Research themes:

  • Human mobility and accessibility
  • Nature conservation
  • Novel data and methods for spatio-temporal analysis

More information on ongoing projects here.

Dynamics of urban change and se­greg­a­tion

What is happening in our cities today – and tomorrow? Are urban inequalities growing? What makes cities successful? The research group for the dynamics of urban change and segregation focuses on these issues from geographical and multidisciplinary perspectives. Our main projects include research on urban segregation, housing, education and transnational migration in collaboration with European and Finnish researcher network. 

More information from Assistant Professor Venla Bernelius.

Land change stud­ies in Africa

This research group studies land use and land cover changes taking place in sub-Saharan Africa due to agricultural expansion. More croplands are cleared for food security on the cost of natural vegetation. The research group combining geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and sustainability science focuses on monitoring and analyzing the land change. Research combines geospatial land cover data with measurements of microclimate, gas exchange, water, soil, vegetation biomass and characteristics, and socio-economic surveys. The objective is to study in an integrative way the consequences of land change to climate, water resources, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, food security and livelihoods of people. Moreover, the strategies to adapt to land change and climate change are developed.

Taita Taveta County in Kenya is the key research area, but studies are conducted both in East and West Africa. Group collaborates with Kenyan and international research organizations in Kenya, while the main partners in Europe are York University and Lund University. Within University of Helsinki, the main collaboration partners are Faculty of Biosciences and Environment, Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, and Finnish Museum of Natural History. Taita Research Station of the University of Helsinki is a central research infrastructure.

The current and past projects related to land change studies and geoinformatics research and teaching in Africa include:

  • AFERIA - Adaptation for food security and ecosystem resilience in Africa - integrating results, building capacity and implementing adaptation strategies. Follow-up of CHIESA project. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2016-2017.
  • TAITAFOREST - Remote sensing of water harvesting and carbon sequestration by forests in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Finnish Culture Foundation, 2016-2017.
  • TAITANYIKA – Impact of land cover changes in integrated land cover-climate-ecosystem processes in African savanna landscapes in the past and present. 2015 -
  • GIERI - Strengthening geoinformatics teaching and research capacity in Eritrea higher education institutions. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2015-2017.
  • GIMMEC Research Community - Geoinformatics for monitoring and modeling of environmental change. University of Helsinki, 2013-2016.
  • BIODEV – Building biocarbon and rural development in West Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2012-2016.
  • TAITAWATER - Integrated land cover-climate-ecosystem process study for water management in East African highlands. Academy of Finland, 2013-2016.
  • CHIESA - Climate change impacts on ecosystem services and food security in Eastern Africa - increasing knowledge, building capacity and developing adaptation strategies. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, 2011-2015. 
  • TAITASCAPE - Forest structure, landscape fragmentation and population dynamics – a geoinformation approach. Academy of Finland, 2007-2008.
  • TAITATOO - Geoinformatics in environmental conservation and community based natural resource management in the Taita Hills, Kenya. Academy of Finland, 2006-2009.
  • TAITA - Development of land use change methodology in East African highlands applying geographic information systems, Academy of Finland, 2003-2005.

More information: Petri Pellikka, Professor in Geoinformatics

Taita Research Station of the University of Helsinki in Kenya

Spa­tial Policy, Polit­ics and Plan­ning

The research group Spatial Policy, Politics and Planning are interested in the political and governmental practices of producing, maintaining and transforming geographical space. Our starting point is that spatial planning practices are never “neutral” or technical expressions of rationality. Under several research themes particular attention is paid to the links between expert knowledge production, the constitution of economic and urban forms, and the spatial governance of political communities in/through spatial planning. Our aim is to produce high quality research with both academic and applied impact.

Research group website: Spatial Policy, Politics and Planning 

Taita Research Sta­tion

Taita Research Station led by Professor Petri Pellikka is a multidisciplinary research station in the Taita Hills in southeastern Kenya established by the University of Helsinki in 2011.

The research focus of the station has been land cover and land use change and the impacts on climate, water resources, biodiversity and livelihoods. The landscape, environment and socio-economic characteristics of the Taita Hills, and Taita Taveta County in general, provides unique research questions to students and scientists in collaboration with local community, research institutes and universities.

The research carried out by the University of Helsinki started already in 1989 by a field excursion, and restarted again in 2003 with Professor Petri Pellikka returning to Taita Hills with his students. Since then, students and scientists ranging from geography and biology to medicine have used the station premises for their field work producing over 50 PhD, MSc and BSc theses.

Main cooperation partners in Kenya have been University of Nairobi, Taita Taveta University, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, National Museums of Kenya, World Agroforestry Centre and Kenya Forest Service. Substantial research funding has been received from the Academy of Finland and development cooperation funding from Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

The most valuable asset of the station is the geospatial database about land cover and its changes, soil, topography, climate and infrastructure. In addition, the station has variety of field plots describing land cover and vegetation characteristics. Remote sensing data of the station includes multitemporal aerial photography and satellite imagery, airborne laser scanner data and airborne hyperspectral remote sensing data.

The station can host 20 quests at the time providing logistics, accommodation, internet, water, electricity and safety. The staff includes besides manager, catering chef and guards also research assistants and drivers. Laboratory and teaching premises are modest, and therefore the station is looking forward to expand its facilities. During the past years, more than 1200 research overnights take place at the station.

The advisory board of the station chaired by Professor Jouko Rikkinen nominated by the rector of the University of Helsinki consists of representative from every faculty of the university. Director Petri Pellikka, station coordinator Dr. Tino Johansson and the staff of the station welcomes students and scientists to the Taita Research Station.

See also Taita Research Station homepages


Director Petri Pel­likka


Urban geo­graphy and Urban academy

Mari Vaattovaara has lead and been involved in several national and international research projects, which include:

  • Uusi kaupunkiköyhyys ja lähiöiden peruskorjaus (PREFARE)
  • VACCIA: Ilmastonmuutoksen ja maankäytön yhteisvaikutukset kaupunkiympäristössä
  • Nordic Welfare States and the Dynamics and Effects of Ethnic Residential Segregation
  • The Doctoral Programme of the Built Environment (RYM-TK)
  • COST C20 Action: Urban Knowledge Arena – Developing a European Arena for Cross-Boundary Co-operation in Production of Knowledge and Know-how on Complex Urban Problems
  • MetrOP - Peruskoulujen oppimistulokset ja oppilaiden hyvinvointi eriytyvällä Helsingin seudulla

Mari is also founder of Urban Academy.