May 25, 2022

We often think of NASA as a table that looks out into space, but it’s the position of the table in space that makes it such a powerful tool for Earth observation. Today, NASA released the results of two space-based studies on climate change on the planet.

The first is the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission data set, a high-resolution lidar aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to estimate total underground forest biomass and carbon storage capacity. This information can now be used by researchers studying the role of forests in climate change mitigation.

Over the past three years, GEDI has taken billions of laser measurements of vegetation around the world. This data was combined with air and ground lidar surveys to create detailed 3D biomass maps that show the total amount of vegetation per square kilometer. With these maps, researchers can better estimate how much carbon is stored in forests.

“Knowing the composition of different forests and forest ecosystems with much greater accuracy will not only improve our assessment of carbon stock, but also improve our understanding of their ecological status and the impact of various land management practices,” said John Armston, Head of Validation and GEDI. Calibration and an associate research professor at the University of Maryland said in a press release.

An illustration showing how a lidar signal can indicate tree cover height.

image credit: NASA

The second is a joint project between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which has used satellite data to develop a method for monitoring groundwater loss, a major undertaking for the agricultural industry. The researchers observed the Tulare Basin in California using the US-European Gravity and Climate Recovery Experiment (GRACE) and subsequent GRACE satellites, as well as the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel-1 satellite.

Groundwater in the Tulare Basin is being pumped to irrigate the state’s Central Valley, a major agricultural center in the United States, and is being depleted. The satellite data provided the team with the context to develop a model that tracks the rate and type of groundwater loss.

“The method determines how much groundwater loss comes from aquifers trapped in the soil, which can be drained so much that they can no longer recover, and how much comes from soil not enclosed in an aquifer, which can be completed in a few years. . Normal rain,” NASA said in a statement.

Despite NASA’s attempts to return to the Moon, the agency has reaffirmed its commitment to Earth exploration missions. NASA Associate Administrator Pam Melroy spoke about the agency’s priority in climate change research this week at the 37th Annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“This year we are launching the Earth System Observatory with our international partners, a series of Earth observation satellites that will measure key parameters to improve global understanding of climate change,” she said at the conference. “When we measured the Earth in the past, we found that the most important thing to measure is not just water, weather, soil moisture or whatever, but really studying the Earth as a system. And so NASA’s work at the Earth System Observatory is important to the planet as a whole.”

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