A laser-based instrument called GEDI, developed for the International Space Station, will give a unique 3-D view of Earth’s forests, helping to fill in missing information about their role in the carbon cycle.
The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation lidar will show the 3-D architecture of forests, as depicted in this artist’s concept. The unprecedented detail of these measurements will give crucial information about the impact that trees have on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) instrument, will be the first to systematically probe the depths of the forests from space. The system is one of two instrument proposals recently selected for NASA’s Earth Venture Instrument program and is being led by the University of Maryland, College Park. The instrument will be built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“As a global leader in research and discovery related to environmental sustainability, the University of Maryland is extraordinarily proud to be a part of this new venture with our partners from NASA,” said University of Maryland Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick O’Shea. “GEDI lidar will have a tremendous impact on our ability to monitor forest degradation, adding to the critical data needed to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
“GEDI will be a tremendous new resource for studying Earth’s vegetation,” said Piers Sellers, deputy director of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. “In particular, the GEDI data will provide us with global-scale insights into how much carbon is being stored in the forest biomass. 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, such as Landsat and MODIS.” The MODIS, or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, is an instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.
By revealing the 3-D architecture of forests in unprecedented detail, GEDI will provide crucial information about the impact that trees have on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Although it is well-established that trees absorb carbon and store it long-term, scientists have not quantified exactly how much carbon forests contain. As a result, it’s not possible to determine how much carbon would be released if a forest were destroyed, nor how well emissions could be countered by planting new trees.
“One of the most poorly quantified components of the carbon cycle is the net balance between forest disturbance and regrowth,” said Ralph Dubayah, the GEDI principal investigator at the University of Maryland. “GEDI will help scientists fill in this missing piece by revealing the vertical structure of the forest, which is information we really can’t get with sufficient accuracy any other way.”