In yet another way that Earth benefits from space, a new map of the Earth’s forests has been made from the data collected from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land elevation Satellite (ICESat). This satellite used it’s light detection and ranging instrument (LIDAR) to measure the height of the Earth’s forests at a resolution of 1 kilometer. This data was combined with data previously collected from NASA’s Terra satellite, NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, and the WorldClim database to form the best map available of the Earth’s forests and their height. This map was also validated at 70 points across the globe by detailed ground studies to verify accuracy.
These new maps of forest height are important to understanding global climate change. Knowing the amounts of biomass is detail allows us to approximate the amount of carbon dioxide that is being absorbed by plant life. It also allows us to track how quickly areas are being de-forested as well as tracking urban growth. In a time where space agencies across the globe are losing funding, this map is one prime reason showing that space technology isn’t just looking out into space. We have to remember that a very large proportion of satellites are in fact pointed at Earth. These satellites do everything from monitoring weather on Earth and in space, to communications, reconnaissance, map making, atmospheric chemical tracking, global sea height tracking, and many other functions that make scientists of every sort better able to understand our planet. When scientists have better data, they can make better predictions that will ultimately benefit all life in a multitude of ways.