NASA has been photographing the Earth from space for decades, and scientists have used those 2-D images to understand our planet a little bit better. Now, a new tool on the International Space Station will help scientists to observe vegetation on Earth in even greater depth. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) Lidar uses lasers to show scientists the structure of forests on the ground.
“It’s like going from a 2-D to a 3-D image,” said School for the Environment Professor Crystal Schaaf, who is a collaborator on the GEDI Lidar project. “This instrument allows us to see the structure of the canopy below. We will be able to learn how that vegetation is affected by environmental change.”
Schaaf will provide the University of Maryland-led team with important data from ground-based Lidar systems that can confirm the validity of International Space Station data. Schaaf says the space-based Lidar is important, because images from space can cover an enormous area all at once, and can show scientists imagery from areas that are challenging to reach on the ground.
“Imagine that a hurricane partially destroys a mangrove forest in Florida. We want to know how fast those mangroves recover,” Schaaf said. “GEDI will allow us to gather that kind of information much faster.”
The data that comes from the GEDI project will ultimately reveal new information about carbon emissions, habitat, and biodiversity.
“We are only now beginning to understand the relationship of canopy structure, how the leaves and branches are arranged vertically, to habitat quality and biodiversity,” says University of Maryland Professor and Principal Investigator Ralph Dubayah.
The GEDI team includes co-investigators from the University of Maryland, Woods Hole Research Center, the U.S. Forest Service, and Brown University. UMass Boston is one of many collaborators, including the German Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.