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‘Flying observatory’ for 3D forest maps

US: The newest version of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), CAO II, was unveiled at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. It is a new airplane-based remote-sensing and analysis system. It enabled scientists to catalogue tree species as they create 3D maps of tropical forests. It will offer powerful insights into the composition and biology of tropical forests.

“With CAO II we will be able not only map the extent of a forest, but its quality and composition,” Asner, Director of CAO, said.

CAO combines optical, chemical and laser sensors aboard aircraft to create high-resolution, 3D maps of vegetation structure. These maps can be used to detect small changes in forest canopy structure from selective logging, measure biomass in dense tropical rainforests and distinguish between plant species. It has the potential to inventory biodiversity across 40,000 acres of rainforest per day by detecting the chemical and spectral (light-reflecting) properties of individual plant species across a diverse landscape.

For this to happen, Asner and his team first had to build up a catalogue of the chemical and spectral properties nearly 5,000 plant species collected during extensive field work. Then Asner’s team worked with engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to build the Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System (AToMS).

To support REDD efforts, Asner’s team has developed an advanced satellite-based carbon mapping tool for use by tropical countries. Asner is now working with Google Earth to make the tool more widely available.

Source: mongabay.com