History in the making…

15th December 2022, over 100 students, teachers, learning support educators (LSEs), and members from the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) of Stella Maris College Senior School, Gzira, joined the Research Innovation Unit to conduct a tree inventory of over 200 trees found within the vast premises of the College. The event was carried under the patronage of the Mayor of Gzira, Dr Conrad Borg Manché and the President of the Eastern Region, Mr Anthony Chircop.  A team of project officers from the University of Malta and the Eastern Regional Council environmental manager assisted the students.  Stella Maris College becomes the first school in Malta to conduct a fully-fledged tree inventory for geoscientific research, among other research fields.

Serving multiple work packages of the European Commission Horizon 2020 funded project JUSTNature, tree inventories provide salient information towards the digital twin of the locality of Gzira. Apart from geotagging information, including tree species, trunk circumference and tree measurement, tree inventories provide salient data to calculate the amount of carbon sequestration from the air, the amount of oxygen released through photosynthesis, filtration of dust (particulate matter), the shade the canopy provides, as well as the natural cooling of the site through the process of transpiration. This data is then compared with air quality data analysis to determine the number of trees needed to achieve carbon neutrality for the locality. Apart from being a mandate by 2050, carbon neutrality means balancing carbon emissions and carbon absorption from the atmosphere. In other words, if a locality produces 1000 tons of carbon per year, the locality can absorb the same amount (or higher) per year, typically through nature-based solutions (NBS), like trees and shrubs.

“To shape our cities and make them more sustainable and liveable for the community by ensuring a just transition to low-carbon cities through nature-based solutions”

What is a digital twin?

A digital twin is an exact 3D model of the physical locality featuring buildings, roads, streets, pavements, open/green/recreational areas, and other build-ups like traffic islands, roundabouts, etc. Digital twins enable the achievement of a smart city using the Internet of Things (IoT) powered sensors that provide live information 24/7. This data includes air quality, traffic counters, temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction and deflection, noise levels, etc., to enable a live representation and forecasts of the Urban Heat Island by using Artificial Intelligence (AI). Such a digital twin can simulate the impact of traffic management and real estate development with scientific data to create policy and aid decision-making and city planning. In an ever-worsening climatic crisis, digital twins play an important role in simulating extreme rainfall and storms, floods from tides and seaquakes, etc., to develop guidelines for adaptation and resilience to climate change at a locality level. Civil Protection may use digital twins to create mass evacuation plans for the locality and train the people accordingly.

Been there, done that and wore the JUSTNature T-Shirt…

By utilising the keep-it-simple tree data acquisition approach conceived inhouse by the Research Innovation Unit, the students at Stella Maris College learned in a non-formal fieldwork set-up, to be acquainted with nature, recognise varied species of trees, appreciate trees and their immense benefits, and how to determine the age of the tree by utilising non-intrusive and destructive methods. Students also learned geotagging, geolocating and coordinate systems, and photometry, apart from benefiting from team building and group work with fellow students and educators. Past the analysis of the data capture, RIU will team up with science teachers and the SLT at Stella Maris College to present the scientific findings to the students. The processed data will be added to the data of other trees found within the locality. The wholistic data will be provided for free download as a shapefile for use in Geographic Information System (GIS) from our portal.

As the name implies, JUSTNature is about being JUST with co-governance, co-creation, co-design, equality, and inclusion concepts. Despite being a boys-only church school, the SLT of Stella Maris College ascertained the team at Research Innovation Unit with the participation of all students within Grade 7, including those with ADHD, Autism, or other special needs. The logistical process for the exercise was notable and admirable, dating since July 2022. Teachers were preparing the students in advance throughout the first term of the scholastic year for this day event not to disrupt the national curriculum of studies; the SLT sought signed consent forms from the student’s parents/legal guardians as per GDPR and we were lucky to have a warm, clear day during the event that was enjoyed by all.

This is the first such event with a school in Malta, and we are working to replicate this event with other schools throughout Malta and Gozo.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 101003757