Research

University-level teaching is based on the latest research results. The teaching and research topics in the Master's Programme in Forest Sciences cover important current themes, such as the sustainable use of forests and other natural resources, climate change, urbanisation, new bioenergy production methods as well as digital services based on forest resource information. As a student of forest sciences, you will have the opportunity to seek solutions to these current challenges through actual research projects. Forest Sciences at the University of Helsinki was ranked 4th in the world in the latest ranking by Center for Wolrd University Rankings making it the most successful field at the University of Helsinki.

Key research areas in forest sciences include:

  • Interactions between forest and peatland ecosystems and climate change
  • Socio-economic changes and the global forest sector
  • The management of forest information
  • Economic-ecological models of forest use and conservation

The Department of Forest Sciences is engaged in two centres of excellence in research funded by the Academy of Finland:

Centre of Excellence in Atmospheric Science – From Molecular and Biological processes to the Global Climate (ATM) and Centre of Excellence in Laser Scanning Research.

From Molecular and Biological processes to the Global Climate

The Center of Excellence originates in the early 1980’s, when atmospheric and forest scientists at the University of Helsinki created a multidisciplinary team and started to unravel questions related to biosphere-atmosphere interactions. Our objective is to measure all energy and material fluxes exchanged between the atmosphere and different ecosystems, and to understand the involved atmospheric and ecosystem processes. With this work we will reduce the scientific uncertainties related to climate change on a regional as well as a global scale. Forests influence climate change not only by absorbing CO2, but also by reflecting radiation and by producing volatile vapors, compounds that cannot be seen but you can smell them when walking in a forest. In atmosphere, these volatile vapors grow into small aerosol particles and enhance cloud formation. Aerosols and clouds increase the reflectance of solar radiation back to space and cool the temperature on Earth.

Our multidisciplinary research team includes 260 scientists working in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and meteorology at the Universities of Helsinki and Eastern Finland (Kuopio), and at the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Our work is based on a network of field stations producing extensive long-term data on atmospheric properties and ecological mass fluxes in different types of environments and regions, including Arctic, boreal and tropical ecosystems, and on focused experiments and modeling aimed at understanding the observed patterns. 

For more information, see the Centre of Excellence in Atmospheric Science website or the Ecosystem Processes Research Group website.

The basic idea behind the laser scanner is simple and straightforward: the distance between the object and scanner is measured based on the time travelled by the laser pulse. When the laser scanner's exact position and orientation are known, the distance measurement can be converted into location information of the object. The laser scanner produces a cloud of points of the object that can be used for highly accurate and detailed 3D mapping. The Centre of Excellence in Laser Scanning Research covers the development of hardware electronics, system integration and positioning technologies and in-depth research into new innovations, information extraction methods, visualisation techniques and applications based on these technologies. Laser scanning has important applications, for instance, in the estimation of standing tree stocks and in 3D modelling of the built environment.

The Centre of Excellence takes a cross-disciplinary approach to the research. It is privileged to have a number of world-leading researchers on its staff, most of whom are exceptionally young. Laser scanning itself is a young field of research, going back no more than some 15 years. The Centre believes in the omnipresent and positive impact of the laser scanner on the lives of every citizen in the modern information society of the early 2020s.

For more information, see the Centre of Excellence in Laser Scanning Research website.

As part of the Department of Forest Sciences the Viikki Tropical Resources Institute (VITRI) provides academic training and implements research on forests and related natural resources in tropical and developing countries. VITRI staff also undertakes national and international assignments related to tropical forest management as well as environmental and forest policy.

For more information visit the Viikki Tropical Resources Institute website!

Our group, based at Department of Forest Sciences, builds on trans-disciplinary research collaboration on sustainable business management, specifically but not exclusively in the context of the forest sector. We understand sustainability as a multi-faceted concept including economic, social and ecological dimensions. In our research we adopt a system thinking, based on the idea that each local business is embedded in a global socio-ecological system.

We advocate for sustainable value creation between humans and ecosystem services, with an emphasis on on healthy forest ecosystems, renewable resources, and forest-based value-chains and products. Our work is directed towards enhancing the transition of bio-based businesses toward sustainable competitiveness. We adopt a bioeconomy perspective, without excluding the circular and green economy as sustainability visions.

Our methodological toolbox includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches, such as econometric and survey-based analysis, Delphi method, interview-based and case studies.

For more information, see the Forest Bioeconomy, Business and Sustainability group website.

Forest pathology deals with diseases of woody plants growing in natural forests, plantations, tree nurseries and in urban environments. As a science, it  is dedicated to understanding the nature of tree diseases as well as the ecology and biology of microbes (fungi, bacteria, viruses) associated with forest trees. It is a discipline within forestry that serves the public and environmental interest by applying scientific principles to the prevention and control of tree diseases. Both biotic and abiotic factors play significant roles in forest tree diseases. Of the biotic factors, fungal diseases are the most important in conditions similar to those in Finland. Among abiotic factors, diseases and disorders caused by air pollution and by climatic and edaphic factors are of major importance. In addition to diseases of living trees, protection of timber and woody products used in building constructions against pests is also included in the discipline.  To be able to intervene in forest tree diseases as well as a functional understanding of the nature of tree–microbe interaction requires the application of modern and novel biotechnology tools (including molecular biology and genomics).

For more information, please visit the Forest Pathology Research Lab website.

Boreal Forest Dynamics and Biodiversity Research Group carries out fundamental research on the structure, dynamics and biodiversity of boreal forest ecosystems. We conduct and encourage research that increases our understanding of boreal forest ecology and the use of this knowledge in developing methods of restoration and sustainable ecosystem-based management of the boreal forest.

For more information, visit the Boreal Forest Dynamics and Biodiversity Research Group website.

The Peatland Ecology Group studies peatlands from the arctic to the tropics, with different land-uses, and with different time horizons from seconds (photosynthesis) to thousands of years (Holocene history). The core of the group is formed by several senior researchers with varying interests, specialties and approaches. Together, we cover a wide range of expertises complementing each other, and apply a wide range of methodologies in our research work. We train researchers and professionals to work both nationally (e.g. experts in peatland forestry and restoration) and internationally (e.g. experts for climate and land-use change impacts on peatlands). We have close collaboration in research and postgraduate training with colleagues from the Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and several  other research institutes and universities worldwide.

For more information, visit the Peatland Ecology Group website!

The Viikki Plant Science Centre (ViPS) is a virtual research environment on the Viikki campus of the University of Helsinki. More than 250 researchers from 36 different research groups are part of the centre. ViPS has high international visibility, with a stimulating high impact research environment. It integrates the basic and applied plant researchers on campus with a bioinformatic development strategy and encourages new collaborative projects.

ViPS is guided by a board with members from the key research fields, an international scientific advisory board and a local advisory board. There are several infrastructures associated with ViPS and available to members for use in their research. ViPS actively participates and develops education in collaboration with the Doctoral Programme in Plant Sciences, other relevant doctoral programmes and the faculties on campus for undergraduate and graduate training.

You can find more information on the Viikki Plant Science Centre website!

Forest soil scientists study the properties and processes operating in forest soils, and the interactions between the above- and belowground ecology and biogeochemistry of forest ecosystems. Forest soil is the basis for renewable forest resources and a living environment for tree and understory roots, fungi, bacteria and soil animals. It stores and cycles carbon and nutrients and filters precipitation for groundwater and runoff. Knowledge about forest soil is a prerequisite for understanding of what happens to forest ecosystems and landscapes under human impact.

Our research topics vary from forest soil basic functions to impacts of disturbances and management. We ask questions such as: what happens to organic matter decomposition in changing climate? How much carbon do forest soils store? Do dead roots transfer more carbon to soil than aboveground litter? What is the impact of storm and insect damage on carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems? How does forest harvesting affect soil nutrient availability and the water cycle? Can biochar be used for improving forest soil properties? Research in forest soil science gives answers to the sustainability of man-made activities affecting forest soils. We cooperate within international and interdisciplinary networks, are in contact with the practice, and integrate our research results also into teaching. We educate students from bachelor to post graduate studies on boreal, temperate and tropical forest soils. 

More information, please visit the Forest Soil Science website.

The Forest Modelling Group at the Department of Forest Sciences focuses on ecological and physiological research questions related to forest growth and production. How does tree form interact with the photosynthesis capacity and water transport of the tree? What causes the decline of height growth in older trees? Can optimal solutions derived from evolutionary theory explain tree structure and function, such as carbon acquisition and allocation? The questions are analysed using theoretical and models and numerical simulations that are based on a mechanistic description of tree processes. The models allow us to investigate quantitatively the impacts of environmental change on forest growth and functioning. Will our forests grow more in the future, or will various disturbances counterbalance the potential gains in growth? The models are already being used in decision support in solving problems of multiobjective forest management and as a basis of economic analyses of forest production and ecosystem services. 

Further information can be found on the Forest Modelling Group website.

The Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station belongs to the Department of Forest Sciences at the University of Helsinki. Its mission is to enable forestry teaching and research in the field conditions. A SMEAR field station of the Atmospheric Research Center and the Department of Physics of the University of Helsinki also operates closely associated with the Hyytiälä station. In addition, the station provides a meeting place for many outside events, meetings, seminars, parties etc.

Tropical peatlands and tropical peat research in the Department of Forest Sciences.

For more information, please visit the Tropical Peatland Research website.

Forestry related human resources are studied in the context of tertiary (MSc) education and further education globally. Research team is organized around the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

For more information, please see the Forest Education website.

Most of today’s environmental policy problems such as deforestation and the existing inequities in rights and benefits from natural resources are deeply rooted in historical processes and patterns of global trade and investment within and beyond the forestry sector. Domestic and international agreements, policies and decisions affecting forests and people all over the world, and vice versa. In the recently established Chair of International Forest Policy we strive for a world in which forests are high on national and international agendas, and forest stewards’ rights are acknowledged. We believe that research can make a difference through the provision of sound evidence of what is and what can be without prescribing what should be.  Our aim is to provide critical analysis to better understand politics and power in highly contested domestic and international policy arenas, often beyond the forestry sector as such.  Our research agenda aims at : analyzing opportunities and obstacles for processes of transformational change, actors’ discourses and power relations within the wider institutional environment, and implications for the forestry sector (international and national, EU and Pan-EU); understanding new modes of forest governance and emerging actor coalitions across multiple levels of governance, including private sector activities and commitments (and the role of the State within these); and evaluating effectiveness, efficiency and equity outcomes of international forest policy instruments (public, private and hybrid instruments).

You can get to international forest policy research group's own webpage from here.