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NASA Map Sees Earth's Trees in a New Light

February 17, 2012



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-->PASADENA, Calif. - A NASA-led science team has created an accurate, high-resolution map of the height of Earth's forests. The map will help scientists better understand the role forests play in climate change and how their heights influence wildlife habitats within them, while also helping them quantify the carbon stored in Earth's vegetation.

Scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; the University of Maryland, College Park; and Woods Hole Research Center, Falmouth, Mass., created the map using 2.5 million carefully screened, globally distributed laser pulse measurements from space. The light detection and ranging (lidar) data were collected in 2005 by the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System instrument on NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat).

"Knowing the height of Earth's forests is critical to estimating their biomass, or the amount of carbon they contain," said lead researcher Marc Simard of JPL. "Our map can be used to improve global efforts to monitor carbon. In addition, forest height is an integral characteristic of Earth's habitats, yet is poorly measured globally, so our results will also benefit studies of the varieties of life that are found in particular parts of the forest or habitats."

The map, available at http://lidarradar.jpl.nasa.gov, depicts the highest points in the forest canopy. Its spatial resolution is 0.6 miles (1 kilometer). The map was validated against data from a network of nearly 70 ground sites around the world.

The researchers found that, in general, forest heights decrease at higher elevations and are highest at low latitudes, decreasing in height the farther they are from the tropics. A major exception was found at around 40 degrees south latitude in southern tropical forests in Australia and New Zealand, where stands of eucalyptus, one of the world's tallest flowering plants, tower much higher than 130 feet (40 meters).

The researchers augmented the ICESat data with other types of data to compensate for the sparse lidar data, the effects of topography and cloud cover. These included estimates of the percentage of global tree cover from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer on NASA's Terra satellite, elevation data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, and temperature and precipitation maps from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission and the WorldClim database. WorldClim is a set of freely available, high-resolution global climate data that can be used for mapping and spatial modeling.

In general, estimates in the new map show forest heights were taller than in a previous ICESat-based map, particularly in the tropics and in boreal forests, and were shorter in mountainous regions. The accuracy of the new map varies across major ecological community types in the forests, and also depends on how much the forests have been disturbed by human activities and by variability in the forests' natural height.

"Our map contains one of the best descriptions of the height of Earth's forests currently available at regional and global scales," Simard said. "This study demonstrates the tremendous potential that spaceborne lidar holds for revealing new information about Earth's forests. However, to monitor the long-term health of Earth's forests and other ecosystems, new Earth observing satellites will be needed."

Full link here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-044&cid=release_2012-044&msource=12044&tr=y&auid=10314751


Added: Feb-17-2012 Occurred On: Feb-17-2012
By: DiaperPudding
In:
Science and Technology
Tags: Nasa, earth, trees, tree height, Geoscience Laser Altimeter System instrument on NASA's Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat)
Location: Pasadena, California, United States (load item map)
Views: 3527 | Comments: 11 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 0 | Shared: 0 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
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  • Thats really amazing and will help people understand how few old growth forests there really are left in this world.

    Posted Feb-17-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'ReplicantDeckard' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @ReplicantDeckard I know and it'll effect the entire world.

      Posted Feb-18-2012 By 

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  • Comment of user 'Myheavynutz' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • Who cares, we are doomed anyway...

    Posted Feb-17-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'mattplasse88' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
    • @mattplasse88

      Worm food or angel dust, who cares?

      Frankly: you didn't exist 50 years ago and you will not exist 50 years from today, so why would you not destroy the planet?

      Posted Feb-17-2012 By 

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    • Comment of user 'mattplasse88' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • We're in an ice age now and have been for the last 10,000 years. Our ice age has been a mild one. Earth's normal condition is to have no ice coverage at the poles at all.

    Throughout history sea levels have ranged by 780 feet over billions of years. We are somewhere about 100 feet short of the top figure.

    The most likely outcome of a warmer planet will be the sudden and violent onset of a new ice age, perhaps one as bad as "Snowball Earth" was.

    Posted Feb-17-2012 By 

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