In DepthRemote Sensing

Space laser to map trees in 3D

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Science  14 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6420, pp. 1226
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6420.1226

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Tallying up the biomass in a forest—and monitoring changes to it—is no easy task. You can cordon off a patch of forest and use tape measures to assess tree growth, hoping your patch is representative of the wider forest. Or you can turn to aerial or satellite photography—if the pictures are available and sharp enough. But even the best cameras can't see past the forest canopy to the understory below. On 5 December, scientists gained a new tool for this tricky business when NASA's Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation instrument was launched on a SpaceX rocket. The instrument, the size of a large refrigerator, uses a laser to see below the treetops. It is now mounted on the International Space Station, where it will begin to gather data on the height and 3D structure of tropical and temperate forests. The campaign will help scientists understand whether forests are slowing or amplifying climate change and identify prime habitat for valued species.

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