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NASA creates 3D map for Earth forests

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US: US space agency, NASA is working on a new instrument for the International Space Station that will create a 3-D map of the Earth's forests, in order to measure the role of trees in scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere.

The new instrument will use LiDAR, a laser system for measuring distance between the space-based instrument and the surface. Called the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) LiDAR, the system will be put together at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. (NASA has a great video explaining how LiDAR is used to map landscapes on other planets.)

“In particular, the GEDI data will provide us with global-scale insights into how much carbon is being stored in the forest biomass," said Piers Sellers, deputy director of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, in a statement. "This information will be particularly powerful when combined with the historical record of changes captured by the U.S.’s long-standing program of Earth-orbiting satellites.”

Although it's well-known trees store carbon, NASA says it's not clear how much the forests contain. So we don't really know what the effects of deforestation are on climate change or how effectively we could slow global warming by planting more trees.

“LiDAR has the unique ability to peer into the tree canopy to precisely measure the height and internal structure of the forest at the fine scale required to accurately estimate their carbon content,” said Bryan Blair, the deputy principal investigator for GEDI at Goddard. The project is a joint venture of the University of Maryland and NASA.

Source: Discovery News