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article imageNew NASA mission will create first 3-D map of world's forests

By Karen Graham     Dec 3, 2018 in Science
When SpaceX's Falcon 9 mission, CRS-16, lifts off Dec. 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Dragon spacecraft will be carrying an instrument called GEDI, short for Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, that will map the world's forests.
SpaceX's next cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS) will lift off Dec. 4 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:38 p.m. EST (1838 GMT). The spacecraft will be carrying tree-seeking lasers, a liquid-methane fueling station, ingredients for "perfect crystals" and much more, according to Space.com.
SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, riding on the Falcon 9 rocket, will be carrying over 5,600 lbs. (2,500 kilograms) of tools, supplies, and equipment to the space station crew, including more than 2,200 lbs. (1,000 kg) of science investigations. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) - pronounced "Jedi," like in the Star Wars movies - will be part of the equipment carried by the Dragon.
GEDI - A first-of-its-kind LIDAR system
As part of a global effort to stabilize the world's climate, scientists led by investigators at the University of Maryland want to create a three-dimensional map of the world's forests to figure out how much carbon is stored in our planet’s trees, as well as give us better estimates of their biomass.
This instrument to measure and map Earth s tropical and temperate forests in 3D using Lidar  called ...
This instrument to measure and map Earth's tropical and temperate forests in 3D using Lidar, called GEDI, will fly to the International Space Station Dec. 4.
NASA
The GEDI sensor will be attached to the Japanese Experiment Module on the ISS for the next two years. Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the United States Forest Service, Brown University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Massachusetts are also part of the team.
GEDI will soar over both the dark side and the light side of Earth at 17,150 miles per hour. Measurements of the height of foliage, branches, trees, and shrubs below its path will yield new insights into how forests are storing or releasing carbon.
“We’d like to be able to understand what the role of forests are,” said Principal Investigator Ralph Dubayah of the University of Maryland, College Park. “We want to know how much carbon is being stored in trees because if we cut those trees down, that’s a potential source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”
Michael Falkowski, an ecosystem scientist at Colorado State University, will be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 4 to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but not as a tourist.
A laser pulse from NASA’s GEDI interacting with a forest canopy.
A laser pulse from NASA’s GEDI interacting with a forest canopy.
Goddard Media Studios
He is currently on a two-year detail as a program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., is providing programmatic support to a team of researchers that will use data collected by the sensor to craft three-dimensional maps of the world’s temperate and tropical forests.
Falkowski will work with the science team and senior NASA management once the sensor starts collecting data. “This will be the first space-borne sensor specifically designed to measure three-dimensional properties of vegetation with a high level of precision and accuracy,” he explained.
ALONG TRACK LIDAR RETURN ENERGY SHOWING VERTICAL DISTRIBUTION OF VEGETATION
ALONG TRACK LIDAR RETURN ENERGY SHOWING VERTICAL DISTRIBUTION OF VEGETATION
GEDI Ecosystem LIDAR
How does GEDI work?
Once GEDI is installed via the robotic arm on the Japanese Experiment Module’s Exposed Facility, it will begin providing the first high-resolution observations of the world’s forest vertical structure on a global scale. It will do so by weighing trees. Which sounds like a complicated undertaking.
GEDI is armed with a powerful laser that can accurately measure and weigh the trees and other foliage without chopping any of them down. GEDI measures this vertical structure with the help of three lasers that will fire pulses 242 times a second at the Earth.
GEDI  instrument being built and tested at NASA s Goddard Space Flight Center in 2018.
GEDI instrument being built and tested at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in 2018.
NASA/Goddard
The laser beams ricochet off the first thing they hit, which can be a leaf atop a dense canopy, a protruding branch, or the ground from which the forest emerges. It will then time how longs it takes some of that light to return to the instrument. One of the mission’s biggest challenges was simply having enough laser power and sensitivity to see through dense tropical forest canopies.
“We can send out a little pulse of light and it travels down, reflects off the surface, and comes back,” Bryan Blair, GEDI instrument scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and deputy principal investigator, said. “We can see and measure how tall the tree is and we can actually see how dense are the foliage and branches as we go down.”
“We want to measure how much carbon is in the forest, which is related to how tall the trees are, how big around they are, how many branches there are, how many leaves there are, and how big the roots are,” Blair said.
The $94 million mission was competitively selected as a NASA Earth Venture-Instrument mission in 2014. Led by the University of Maryland in collaboration with Goddard, GEDI has the highest resolution and densest sampling of any LIDAR every put in orbit.
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