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NASA Creates First Global Forest Map Using Lasers

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the if-a-tree-is-measured-and-nobody-is-around-to-see-it dept.

Earth 55

MikeCapone writes "Scientists, using three NASA satellites, have created a first-of-its-kind map that details the height of the world's forests. The data was collected from NASA's ICESat, Terra and Aqua satellites. The latter two satellites are responsible for most of NASA's Gulf spill imagery. The data collected will help scientists understand how the world's forests both store and process carbon. While there are many local and regional canopy maps, this is the very first global map using a uniform method for measure."

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Lasers? (4, Funny)

Allnighte (1794642) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984832)

Since when did NASA get sharks into satellites in space?

Re:Lasers? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32984846)

Shut the fuck up. That meme is really getting worn out. You have nothing to contribute here.

Re:Lasers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32984862)

YOU MAD

Re:Lasers? (0, Redundant)

spazdor (902907) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984904)

y tho?

To be fair... (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984974)

One of the satellites was named "Aqua."

Re:Lasers? (1)

FShort (91112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985702)

Lighten up Francis.

Re:Lasers? (4, Funny)

Matheus (586080) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984872)

The article was supposed to read:

"Attempt by NASA to map Earth's forests with lasers scorches entire tree population!"

News at 11...

Re:Lasers? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984954)

"Attempt by NASA to map Earth's forests with lasers scorches entire tree population!"

Or perhaps it was supposed to read ...

"Attempt by NASA to control runaway inflation succeeds."

Re:Lasers? (1)

tedgyz (515156) | more than 4 years ago | (#32993472)

The article was supposed to read:

"Attempt by NASA to map Earth's forests with lasers scorches entire tree population!"

News at 11...

Well, that makes the height measurement easier.

Re:Lasers? (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986484)

That's what I'm saying. The sharks did this years ago, mapping the ocean floor with their lasers. NASA is just copying them.

So little forest (3, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984864)

Coming from a place with so much forest, I sometimes forget how little of the world is covered in forest. I love the forest, and could not imagine living in a place with no forest. Although it seems that's how most of the world is.

Re:So little forest (1)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985082)

Yeah. Turns out most of the world is salt water.

Re:So little forest (2, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985488)

I miss the forest. I haven't had a chance to get into the woods yet this year. Closest I got was an evening on the shore of Lake Ontario. I will be going this Governor Simcoe Day [wikipedia.org] .

Re:So little forest (1)

fifedrum (611338) | more than 4 years ago | (#32991706)

Ah, Lake Ontario, where the ice forms on your toes all the way through to August... (at least when it flips, eh)

Re:So little forest (3, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985818)

I know someone who grew up on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, who can't imagine how people live anywhere else.

I personally grew up near a river, and am continually trying to find places to live that are near (slightly secluded) rivers or similar.

I suppose we all have our own favorite bits of nature. But I think we can agree that those who live in the concrete jungle are completely bat-shit insane.

Re:So little forest (0)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#32987718)

The only reason you can live there in the kind of comfort, health, and luxury that you do is because hundreds of millions of people live in concrete jungles, at the kinds of densities that support efficient manufacturing and research. The tax payers living in those concrete jungles even subsidize your lifestyle, with roads and other infrastructure.

So, before you talk about other people being "bat-shit insane", realize that you are dependent the "concrete jungle" and the people living there. In a sense, you're even one step more removed from nature than city dwellers, because cities could largely exist without people like you, but you couldn't live anything like you do without cities.

Re:So little forest (1)

hokiemattdude (1118701) | more than 4 years ago | (#32989380)

Sure, until you run out of farmers and then have nothing to eat.

Re:So little forest (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#33010062)

Industrial farming requires very little rural population. When it does, it is migrant workers, not people enjoying the pleasant surroundings.

Re:So little forest (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32999632)

Your whole theory is bullshit for the following reasons:

It's only in the recent past that cities have grown this dense. Sure, New York's been a mess for a century or so, but pretty much nowhere else, and yet, people lived just as comfortably as they do today.

There are innumerable less dense cities that more than pay for their own infrastructure. The modest-sized city I grew up in (with the quiet, river-front property) not only pays for it's own infrastructure, but gets screwed out of ABOUT HALF of local tax dollars by the county, and sunk into several nearby large cities.

Not to mention that there's not a major city on the planet that doesn't IMPORT it's water, raw materials, food, etc., from the nearest less densely packed areas.

Manufacturing is most certainly WORSE in a large city. I could provide you and endless laundry-list of companies who are FLEEING large cities, headed to areas with less congestion, and lower cost of living so their employees don't need to commute for hours every day.

Re:So little forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33002092)

>It's only in the recent past that cities have grown this dense.

Before which you would not be able to enjoy the same luxuries you do today.

I live in the country and am aware of how dependent I am on the local city (if I can call it that). That's not to say a city can exist without farmers but yyxx makes an extremely valid point.

In a way it's not so much rural communities that are leeches on society as it is suburbia that is the leach on society. The relationship between farmers and cities is symbiotic but the relationship between suburbia and the larger society is parasitic (as well unsustainable and a drag on the economy)

Re:So little forest (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#33010124)

To build things like the desktop PC you're using, or the Internet you're communicating over, to develop the medical advances you're enjoying, etc. requires big population centers. They simply wouldn't exist if the entire US was covered in widely separated cities of 100000 inhabitants or less.

And you may think that you're "sinking money into nearby cities", but your modest-size city (aka suburb) wouldn't have much manufacturing or places to go if it wasn't near a big city.

You are right that cities need to "import" raw materials from less densely populated areas, but those can be (and increasingly are) industrial farming and resource extraction operations, not idyllic small towns.

Re:So little forest (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 4 years ago | (#33010890)

To build things like the desktop PC you're using, or the Internet you're communicating over, to develop the medical advances you're enjoying, etc. requires big population centers.

You're welcome to prove it. Much is currently done in cities because that's where lots of people happen to be. Manufacturing, scientific advancements, inventions, etc. all happened when there were fewer people per sq km, and continue to happen in less dense areas.

And you may think that you're "sinking money into nearby cities", but your modest-size city (aka suburb) wouldn't have much manufacturing or places to go if it wasn't near a big city.

Utter nonsense. That's undeniably not the case here, and I'm sure there are innumerable other small cities (not suburbs) which are completely self-contained, with both people and industry, all completely indifferent to any large cities around them. With globalization, your products are just as likely to go to the other side of the planet as the next big city over.

You're still doing nothing but spouting laughable assertions.

Re:So little forest (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#33012138)

For proof, just look at a map of the economic productivity, subtract out the 100 mile areas around big cities and look at what's left. Or look at the contributions of rural vs urban states to the GNP.

Much is currently done in cities because that's where lots of people happen to be

Congratulations, you're getting it! Big cities house large numbers of people efficiently, they reduce infrastructure costs, and they serve as central distribution points.

Utter nonsense. That's undeniably not the case here, and I'm sure there are innumerable other small cities (not suburbs) which are completely self-contained, with both people and industry, all completely indifferent to any large cities around them.

Almost all the goods you get come from your nearest large city. That's where the highways go. That's where your money is managed. That's where the big airport is. Really, get a clue.

With globalization, your products are just as likely to go to the other side of the planet as the next big city over.

And how do they get there? By pack mule? No, they go through the port in the next big city, and they come from another big city.

You're still doing nothing but spouting laughable assertions.

No, I'm simply pointing out the obvious, based on pretty much universally known economic facts. You're, however, spouting nonsense like the notion that your town is self-sufficient.

Re:So little forest (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33023746)

For proof

That's not proof, that's correlation, which could be caused by any of a million different factors. My facts, like the fact the industrial revolution happened, despite cities that were much smaller, go directly to the point, and have not be refuted thus far.

Big cities house large numbers of people efficiently, they reduce infrastructure costs, and they serve as central distribution points.

Infrastructure costs for THE CITY GOVERNMENT may be reduced. Sky-high prices for land, housing, and commercial space, vastly overwhelm whatever efficiencies you can come up with.

The density of cities makes them useless as distribution points. You can't funnel that much traffic through a tiny point. Companies have been pushing out further and further for exactly those reasons.

Almost all the goods you get come from your nearest large city. That's where the highways go. That's where your money is managed. That's where the big airport is. Really, get a clue.

Wal-mart has some of the world's largest distribution centers, out in the desert, on the fringes of small cities. Some of the most major transportation and distribution hubs are nothing towns, 200+ miles from nowhere. And they don't exist to supply "big cities", they exist to supply the entire population, which would continue to exist even if none of them lived in major cities.

And how do they get there? By pack mule? No, they go through the port in the next big city, and they come from another big city.

Sea-ports tend to be in big cities. There is no necessity for a port to be in a big city, however. In fact alternative ports are a big thing right now. I can point you to airports in the middle of the desert that have numerous large planes flying to/from China, daily. The ability to BYPASS those big cities is a MAJOR PLUS to distribution. The roads and rail lines are too congested, and the reality of big cities means expanding the infrastructure is extremely difficult to borderline impossible.

No, I'm simply pointing out the obvious, based on pretty much universally known economic facts.

Your dogma is irrelevant. I've provided plenty of evidence to the contrary, and you've still provided none. True believers like yourself don't let little things like facts get in their way. You've succeed only in wasting my time. Goodbye. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Re:So little forest (1)

yyxx (1812612) | more than 4 years ago | (#33032962)

My facts, like the fact the industrial revolution happened, despite cities that were much smaller, go directly to the point, and have not be refuted thus far.

The industrial revolution was two centuries ago. Yeah, you can build steam engines, looms, and Ford T's in small towns. But we're talking about modern lifestyles here: Internet, DVDs, desktop supercomputers, 3D movies, and cell phones, and all for a pittance.

If you want to make the ridiculous claim that you can do all that without urban areas of a million inhabitants or larger, the burden of proof is on you.

Of course, whether you know it or not, the fiction you promulgate is politically motivated and shared variously by tree huggers on the one side, and city-hating libertarians and conservatives on the other.

Re:So little forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32987700)

You should come check out Kansas. Two trees on the same block are called a forest, and we call highway overpasses mountains. This is probably one of the only places in the world where kids are actually encouraged to sled right off the shoulder of a 4 lane interstate. Only thing we have more of than anyone else is wind. 40 mph steady wind is an average day here. And yes, I do miss the wind when I go somewhere else.

How to map forests with a laser (5, Funny)

pclminion (145572) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984890)

1. Shoot laser at target area
2. Is target area aflame?
Yes - Target area contained a forest previously
No - Target area was not a forest

Re:How to map forests with a laser (1)

raicesrasta (1121823) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984978)

This will be good to find out what is the amount of destruction human kind is making to the worlds forests.

Re:How to map forests with a laser (1)

ModernGeek (601932) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986590)

No, from his methodology, it would be the destruction of the worlds forests by man kind.

Re:How to map forests with a laser (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32986642)

No, LANDSAT technology from the 70s & 80s is sufficient for that and there have been people creating deforestation maps using that data for at least 20 years. The only thing new as reported by this article is the use of lidar to measure how tall those forests are.

Apart from a nice visualisation.. (1)

joshier (957448) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984942)

Apart from a nice visualisation, is there any interesting things to note? I notice that there's some swirly patterns going on - that seems quite interesting.

I am the Lorax (5, Funny)

catmistake (814204) | more than 4 years ago | (#32984950)

RUN, FOREST, RUN!!

Ginger kids (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32984996)

Ginger kids are creepy

How's the height of the forest relevant... (2, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985004)

From TFA:

"What we really want is a map of above-ground biomass, and the height map helps get us there," said Richard Houghton, an expert in terrestrial ecosystem science.

How's the height of the forest relevant to the storage and processing carbon? (not saying that is not relevant. Just asking how is relevant)
Like what? Grasses in savannah/prairies/outback-bushland doesn't store/process carbon?

Re:How's the height of the forest relevant... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32985042)

Helps to know the volume by having measurements in all three relevant spatial dimensions.

Just a guess.

Re:How's the height of the forest relevant... (4, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985072)

Like what? Grasses in savannah/prairies/outback-bushland doesn't store/process carbon?

Less than tall trees, obviously. While medium-height shrubs would contain somewhere in between.

There are obvious deficiencies, like that they probably care about biomass density and you could have dense foliage under a shorter canopy. But it is a useful first-order indication. That's why they said the height map "helps get us there", not "is the end-all be-all, yippe we're done."

Re:How's the height of the forest relevant... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32985470)

Combine this data with high res infrared satellite images to determine the type of foliage and density, add some extra geographic information, like soils, weather, altitude, etc, and you can get a really good estimate of the species of certain forest and the the amount of carbon it can capture among other information. Keep everything updated at least every year and you can already do some really interesting environmental stuff, like plague detection and prevention.

I use satellite and aerial photography for environmental analysis at work, and even with just Google Earth we can save a lot of time and effort on field work. A couple times we only had to confirm certain data we already had from a nearby area and that looked the same in the satellite image, with a good sampling in the field this information can be very reliable.

Re:How's the height of the forest relevant... (1)

beanluc (780880) | more than 4 years ago | (#32991420)

I went to the Save The Redwoods League annual meeting last year and saw a heatmap that was produced from LIDAR remote-sensing.

The heatmap was of a several-square-km's area of second-growth Coast Redwood forest. The "heat" metric represented the rate at which carbon was being sequestered in new biomass. Both height and girth of trees were important.

In another presentation, the LIDAR data yielded an unbelievably detailed 3D model of the entire forest at all levels, from ground to canopy. This informs conservation work on not only the redwoods but dozens of other threatened species and the Northern California coastal forest ecosystem on the whole.

These LIDAR were shot from airplanes, not NASA's satellites, so the resolution is orders of magnitude greater. But it goes to show this kind of data is valuable.

Re:How's the height of the forest relevant... (1)

thenameisray (1269518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32988588)

They're interested in carbon sequestration. Trees store carbon for long periods. In a short amount of time grasses grow, fixing CO2, then die and decompose, in the process releasing most of that fixed CO2. Trees grow (sequester carbon) for decades or centuries, then are often cut up to build paper and houses, maintaining that storage. Additionally, a lot of work is being done on determining the effects of increased global CO2 and temperature on the worlds plants. Grasses have a C4 metabolism, which is not carbon limited, increasing CO2 will not appreciably increase growth. Most trees have C3 metabolisms, and will increase growth with an increased atmospheric CO2. Increasing atmospheric CO2 also lowers water use, the plants don't need to "breath" (open stomata) as much. In many parts of the world, forests are a large contributor to weather, less transpired water means less rain.

Damn all of you (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32985104)

You bastards ruined my joke about "in an unrelated story: massive forest fires consume planet" cause it's too similar to what you already said.

Leveraging the data collected for other uses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32985120)

This makes me curious about how granular the mapping is, and if it is available for other groups to leverage. For example: using the topology data from under the canopy to search for previously undiscovered ruins from groups such as the Maya in Central America. Undiscovered pyramids may appear to just be another hill from ground level, but if seen in a different context could reveal them for what they are.

So.... (2, Interesting)

gaderael (1081429) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985524)

Anyone else hoping to see a splotch of green in the Antarctic besides me?

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32996152)

Anyone else hoping to see a splotch of green in the Antarctic besides me?

No [nasa.gov]

And I believe (5, Funny)

Viadd (173388) | more than 4 years ago | (#32985566)

These are the days of lasers in the jungle.

Lasers in the jungle somewhere.

Weeks...and no forests? (1)

stoicio (710327) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986584)

""LIDAR is unparalleled for this type of measurement," said Michael Lefsky of the Colorado State University, responsible for capturing the data.
He explains that it would have taken weeks to capture this data in the field where LIDAR can capture it in seconds."

Hmmm....I'm pretty sure it took weeks to collect and validate this data.

Even if you're just going to count acquisition time you're talking about a week to get full un-obscured total global coverage.
Then you need to cull the bad data, align the good data, verify it, calibrate it, map it.

What is most startling about this imagery is how little of the land mass of the Earth is actually forested.
The planet has gone bald due to bad human environmental hygiene. Keep in mind that most of that land mass
between the equator and 60 degrees North and South was forested 400 years ago. Now it looks like a bad 'comb over'.

Plant a tree folks. Dig up a, sidewalk/yard/parking lot, and plant a tree.

Re:Weeks...and no forests? (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986790)

...and if you're interested in purchasing trees, please don't go to Home Depot, Wal Mart, or whatever big box you have. Go to your local nursery/garden center. They actually know a thing or two about plants and will have a much better selection of higher quality plants. You might pay a little extra, but it's better than having to buy another one next year because your tree died.

Re:Weeks...and no forests? (1)

Prosthetic_Lips (971097) | more than 4 years ago | (#32989362)

You have to understand how they did this. First, they identified where THEY THOUGHT forests were, then they used the results from their height-measuring lasers.

I personally live in NE Florida, and regularly drive down to middle Florida (mickey mouse's house) -- there are LOTS of trees around, but none of them show up on the map in the article. So, telling me to plant a tree makes me want to ask, "Where? There are tons of trees around already." Could there be more? Sure, but they wouldn't show up on their map.

I could almost tag this as, "picture not related."

But let's not keep shifting the baseline (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986692)

It is really important to remember that humans have been deforesting the planet for several thousand years now. I'd be interested in knowing what the pre-human impact, post-last-ice-age forest map looks like. Hint: England, Ireland, Western Europe etc I'm looking at you!

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32986732)

From a scientific standpoint, this is pretty amazing. A uniform standard for a global scale measurement? No conflicting evidence from different people using different methodology on a GLOBAL scale? I'm in shock. From a scientific standpoint, this is a huge accomplishment.

Dead forests (2, Interesting)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 4 years ago | (#32986770)

Apparently they don't take into account all the millions of acres of dead and dying forests that result from the Mountain Pine Beetle. I know for a fact that a very large chunk of the "forest" shown in Northern Colorado is actually nothing more than a vast land filled with billions of brown sticks.

Of course, many of you may know the situation is similar in many other areas. I've never been to BC, but from everything I've read, the situation there is 1000% worse.

Oh well, that's what happens when you have large scale fire mitigation in populated forests.

Re:Dead forests (1)

hawkfish (8978) | more than 4 years ago | (#33038612)

Oh well, that's what happens when you have large scale fire mitigation in populated forests.

No, that's what happens when we warm the climate so much the beetle larvae don't get killed by winter frosts.

Am I the only one uncomfortable with this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32986848)

I mean, satellites shooting lasers at us all the time? What happens when the beam hits me or a high flying bird? A pilot of a jet?

When there will be even more satellites and they start doing this, there will be problems.

Re:Am I the only one uncomfortable with this? (1)

Herve5 (879674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32990124)

I have two replies to this:
- roughly speaking, the laser used is very low power, and its light is scattered onto square Kms, so really the energy received by an human eye is extremely low
- technically, studies have been made before the spacecraft design be decided (of course), and there are actual regulations for light received on ground from a satellite.
I don't remember the values, but it's related to my first point: there is a maximum limit, with margins, that ensures you don't get harmed just by looking at this flying bird when the sat passes behind it.
This limit is a design constraint on the satellite lidar size (telescope diameter and laser power).

Already outdated (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32987586)

Too bad the map is outdated as fast as the laser burns away the forest it measures...

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