NAU scientists on mission to revolutionize how forest carbon, biodiversity, and habitat are measured from space

On December 5, 2018 the GEDI lidar instrument lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida and made its way towards the International Space Station.  The instrument — which uses laser pulses to measure distances and map 3D structure — is expected to capture at least 10 billion cloud-free samples over its two-year lifespan, as it hurtles around the Earth at 17,150 miles per hour.

GEODE lab members share their experiences being part of the GEDI science team, and their excitement about how GEDI will revolutionize research on biodiversity and forest carbon in a new NAU News article.

Bogota, Columbia workshops center on lidar opportunities

Lidar point cloud (left panel) and the derived waveform (right panel). Left and right insets show the canopy height model and Shannon’s diversity index, respectively, for an area surrounding the target footprint.

Our NASA Applied Sciences project #80NSSC18K0338, “Quantifying Forest Vertical Structure Using Spaceborne Lidar: A GEOBON Essential Biodiversity Variable Application in Colombia”, supported two workshops in Bogota, Colombia on November 27th and 28th. The first workshop focused on the use and interpretation of air and spaceborne lidar data for biodiversity applications in Colombia. Lab members Pat Burns and Patrick Jantz gave presentations and led interactive exercises using open-source software tools, including R, QGIS, and CloudCompare. Attendees participated in a discussion about potential collaborative efforts to integrate field and drone measurements of forest structure with lidar measurements from a recently launched spaceborne lidar mission, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI).

The second workshop focused on the use of GEDI to develop a forest structure Essential Biodiversity Variable for Colombia. Pat Burns, Patrick Jantz, Andy Hansen, and Bjorn Reu gave presentations on GEDI, the GEO BON Essential Biodiversity Variable concept, mapping forest integrity with Landsat, and the potential contribution of agro-forestry systems to biodiversity in the Colombian Andes. Attendees provided valuable feedback and guidance on initial efforts to characterize forest structure across Colombia. Attendees also participated in a discussion focused on existing and planned forest monitoring efforts that could be used to validate a forest structure EBV.

Attendees included representatives from the Humboldt Institute; faculty and students from universities in Bogota, Medellin, and Bucaramanga; and leaders from forest plot networks across Colombia. Collaborators from the Humboldt Institute, Susana Rodriguez and Maria Cecilia-Londono were instrumental in the success of these workshops.

GEDI scientists share space laser excitement

Dr. Goetz shares his excitement about GEDI and the research it will inspire in a new interview with NASA:

After many years of preparation – over a decade – we are on the cusp of having a space-borne lidar instrument that is designed for land research and applications …

When GEDI achieves orbit and the data from the instrument reach the science community, I think we will see a revolution in research and applications related to ecosystem dynamics, including forestry, biodiversity and hydrology …

GEDI is long overdue. I can hardly wait to see what we can do with the unique data it will provide.  At long last we will have access to the 3rd dimension of global forests!

Read more about what Dr. Goetz had to say about GEDI, as well as interviews with other GEDI scientists here.

A New Hope: GEDI launch successful

The NASA GEDI laser instrument successfully launched aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday, December 5th.  The GEDI lidar instrument is on its way to the International Space Station.  Once installed, GEDI will circle the Earth at 17,150 miles per hour, emitting laser pulses that penetrate forest canopies and provide 3D images of vegetation structure.  GEDI will provide the first landscape scale 3D look at the world’s temperate and tropical forests.

Read more about GEDI here.

Animals and the zoogeochemistry of the carbon cycle

Animals play a significant role in shaping landscape scale carbon exchange and storage, according to new research published in Science by Dr. Goetz and NAU colleague Dr. Chris Doughty.  Goetz and Doughty used remote sensing to analyze animal movements and how they impact the global carbon cycle.  Their research highlights the importance of including animal feedbacks in discussions of climate change mitigation.

Read more about this research here, and read the full article here.

 

An icy world defrosted: NASA targets Arctic permafrost thaw

Tipsy trees in a “drunken forest” — thawing permafrost and destabilized soil cause the trees to lean

Credit: Idrose/flickr

Scott Goetz and NAU Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (ECOSS) researcher Ted Schuur were recently featured in a Science Magazine article highlighting permafrost research conducted under NASA’s ABoVE project.  Schuur’s experimental field studies measure how much carbon is released to the atmosphere due to permafrost thaw.  This work has now gained an airborne ally.  NASA aircraft capable of mapping topography and emitting radar pulses that penetrate the ground surface and measure depth to permafrost are now flying missions in conjunction with field-based permafrost studies.  These flights will help link field based measurements to remote sensing data and scale these fine scale measurements up to larger spatial scales.

Read more about this project here.  Read more about “drunken trees” here.

NAU scientists publish first estimate of carbon emissions from 2014 mega-fires in Canada’s boreal forests

Scott Goetz recently collaborated with researchers Xanthe Walker, Michelle Mack and Ted Schuur from NAU’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (ECOSS) on a study estimating carbon emissions from an unprecedentedly large fire in Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT). Accurate predictions of carbon emissions are necessary to predict future climate feedbacks.  This study examined the major sources of heterogeneity that impact carbon emissions at different scales.  This increased understanding can be used to improve high resolution modeling of carbon emissions across understudied areas.

Read more about this study here, and read the full article in Global Change Biology here.

NAU scientists lead DoD project to assess environmental impact of changing climate on boreal forests

Credit US Forest Service

Scott Goetz, along with NAU Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (ECOSS) professor Michelle Mack, are leading a new Department of Defense (DoD) funded project to to assess the resiliency and vulnerability of boreal forest on DoD lands across central Alaska.  This project is just one example of many collaborations between the GEODE lab and ECOSS.

Read more about this project here.

New paper in Nature: Plant functional trait change across a warming tundra biome

Scott Goetz and Logan Berner are co-authors on “Plant functional trait change across a warming tundra biome,” a paper out this year in Nature.

Goetz and Berner collaborated with scientists from institutions across the world to assess climate impacts on plant functional traits across the tundra biome and three decades of climate warming.

Read more via NAU’s In the Spotlight and read the full paper here.

Total change in temperature (b) and soil moisture (c) over the period 1989-2015. Predicted changes in height (d) and leaf nitrogen (e) over this same period.