Cutting-edge NASA space lasers to map Earth's forests in 3D

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Nov 19, 2014

Mapping the forests across planet Earth doesn’t sound like the most fun job in the world. Throw in space lasers, and it starts to sound much cooler.

Space lasers developed by NASA for use on the International Space Station (ISS) will now be used to created detailed 3D maps capable of measuring biomass in forests. Ideally, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) will use lidar, a special kind of laser technology, to estimate the total amount of carbon stored inside trees on Earth.

Three lasers will be used to fire 14 laser beams capable of covering four miles. The team plans to send 16 billion laser pulses every year. According to Space, the lidar pulses will measure the height of trees to about a 3-foot accuracy and allow scientists to estimate the total biomass in a forest and how much carbon it's storing.

GEDI will have three lasers that will shoot out a total of 14 laser beams that will cover about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers). The team of engineers behind GEDI estimate that it will send out about 16 billion laser pulses every year.

Researchers say the tech can have a “tremendous impact” on our ability to monitor forest degradation. That data can be “critical” to mitigate the effects of climate change, according to chief research officer Patrick O’Shea. The team hopes to used the GEDI to determine how much carbon a forest stores, to get an inkling of how the balance would be offset by the destruction of a forest.

If they can put a solid number on that information, the team believes they can create a much better balance for forest disturbance and regrowth. That’s all well and good, but c’mon — space lasers!

(Via Space)