Ground Truth: Science Notes

Space Project To Measure Planet’s Forests

The world’s forests are about to get a close-up.

Tomorrow, a laser-shooting instrument is scheduled to blast into space for a rendezvous with the International Space Station, with the goal of taking precise measurements of the height, mass and structure of forests around the planet.

The Global Ecosystem Dynamic Investigation (GEDI) will use that data to give scientists a better understanding of how much biomass is contained in forests, and how much carbon they store.

“Scientists have been planning for decades to get comprehensive information about the structure of forests from space to deepen our understanding of how this structure impacts carbon resources and biodiversity across large regions and even globally,” Ralph Dubayah, the project’s principal investigator, said earlier this year.

The instrument will emit laser pulses to obtain high-resolution, three-dimensional representations of the world’s forests. Dubayah, a professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland, says the information will allow researchers to better predict concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the future.

GEDI will fire 242 pulses per second. Researchers say they hope the information obtained during the two-year project will help the Forest Service and other agencies make more informed decisions about how best to manage the forests they oversee.