New NASA Probe Will Study Earth’s Forests in 3-D

NASA / Elizabeth Zubritsky / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

A laser-based instrument being developed for the International Space Station will provide a unique 3-D view of Earth’s forests, helping to fill in missing information about their role in the carbon cycle.


Called the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) LiDAR, the instrument will be the first to systematically probe the depths of the forests from space.

GEDI will carry a trio of specialized lasers, developed in-house at Goddard, and will use sophisticated optics to divide the three beams out into 14 tracks on the ground. Together, these tracks will be spaced 1,640 feet (500 meters) apart on the surface creating a total swath width of about 4 miles (6.5 kilometers). GEDI will sample all of the land between 50 degrees north latitude and 50 degrees south latitude this way, covering nearly all tropical and temperate forests.

These fingerprints will provide enough detail to measure the height of the trees and where the tree canopy begins with an accuracy of about 3-1/3 feet (1 meter).


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