The reason why NASA shoots lasers at trees

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The GEDI missiondeveloped jointly by the Goddard Space Flight Center of the POT and the University of Maryland, is now launching lasers into forests around the world. The objective is know how deforestation has influenced the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

As detailed in the BBCGEDI is the acronym in English for Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, which translated into Spanish means Research on the Global Dynamics of Ecosystems.

Consequently, through this program the vegetation of all corners of the planet is monitored. The GEDI mission works thanks to a instrument that shoots lasers and what is it attached to the International Space Station since the year 2019.

Spanish scientist Adrián Pascual, a member of the GEDI scientific team, explains that “It is a satellite the size of a refrigerator, it weighs about 500 kilos and is docked or connected to one of the modules of the International Space Station.”

The height and composition of the forests are studied

Its operation is as follows, Pascual specifies: “When the laser beam reaches the earth, hits the first item it findswhich is the top of the trees, and continues to progress until it hits the ground”.

In this way, “the sensor measures the difference between when the treetops and the ground are detected. And by converting that period of time into distance, we are able to estimate the height of the vegetation”, details the scientist.

In addition, thanks to this device, the composition of the forest can also be studied, since it detects changes in the patterns of energy waves. “We are able to estimate different levels of vegetation and that gives us an idea not only of the height of the forest, but of its structural complexity”highlights Adrián Pascual.

The keys: carbon and biomass

Trees take care of collecting and storing carbon dioxide (CO2)one of the main causes of global warming and, consequently, of the climate change. “When trees grow they increase their biomass. And approximately 50% of that biomass, of the wood of those trees, is carbon”, indicates Pascual.

The expert points out that “it is calculated more or less that a medium-sized tree, the most general thing that can be thought, fixes about 25 kg of carbon dioxide per year.” In this way, GEDI is used to “to know what is the stock, the carbon storage that currently exists in all the world’s forests” or what is the same, measure how deforestation has contributed to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

However, there is a problem: this mission is scheduled to continue only until January 2023. Therefore, both researchers and state representatives are supporting a campaign for GEDI to continue operating for several more months or years due to its benefits for the study of climate change.

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