France: European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth-observing satellites are helping to understand the intricate role that Eurasia’s boreal forest – the planet’s largest land ecosystem – plays in the chemical make-up of the atmosphere and the global climate system.
By fostering new use of Earth observation data through the Atmosphere-Land Interaction Study (ALANIS), insight is being gained into how boreal forests contribute to greenhouse gas and aerosol concentration and into the processes governing the interplay between Earth’s surface and atmosphere.
Responding to the need to quantify, model and understand the processes occurring in this huge remote region, ALANIS was set up within ESA’s Support to Science Element in partnership with the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme’s International Land Ecosystem-Atmosphere Processes Study (iLEAPS).
Executive Director of the iLEAPS International Project Office, Anni Reissell, said, “This collaboration draws together Earth system and Earth observation communities and is vital for planning future remote-sensing products to increase our understanding of land–atmosphere interactions.”
To maximise the benefits to science, the project is divided into three main areas: methane, smoke plumes and aerosol production. The project is generating one of the most complete datasets over the region by exploiting the potential offered by sensors carried on Envisat. The dataset includes atmospheric methane concentrations derived from the Sciamachy sensor and different products describing the land, such as the variability and extent of wetlands, inundated areas and snowmelt.
Another element of ALANIS investigates the impact of forest fires. Data from the Advanced Along Track Scanning Radar (AATSR) and the optical MERIS instrument have provided information to generate a dataset that describes the extent of burnt areas and the carbon released to the atmosphere, as well as a new 3D representation of smoke plumes.
The project is also investigating ways of differentiating between atmospheric aerosols originating from human activities and those coming from natural sources.