Feeds

NASA satellites spy on forests

Tracking trees in a changing climate

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

A NASA funded study is using satellites to monitor forests, with the aim of measuring the impact of climate change on their growth and health.

The research should help scientists better understand the interplay of the factors that contribute to the composition and health of a forest. This in turn may help them forecast how forests could change as weather patterns shift.

The research is based on the so-called "vegetation index" from the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. This is a measure of forest productivity - a measure of photosynthesis and the ability of the forest of absorb carbon dioxide and convert that into new planet tissue.

The scientists found a strong link between the diversity of a forest's trees and its overall productivity in different weather conditions.

Richard Waring, professor emeritus of forest science at Oregon State University and lead author of the study, said: "These new data help us better predict how forests may change so officials can implement environmental plans or regulations to lessen the impact in advance. The data...may be helpful in sorting out changes in forest health caused by land conversion or pollution rather than climate change."

According to NASA, the vegetation index can also be used to estimate the number of tree species in a region.

Previously, tracking forest diversity was a very laborious process, involving lots of expensive field work and sample analysis. This project compared the predictions from the vegetation index against the last forest "census" and found that the predictions are usually very accurate.

There was an anomaly, however, in the Pacific North West. Here, the vegetation index correlated with about double the actual number of tree species.

The researchers suggest that an abrupt climate shift during the Pliocene, when the region became much cooler and drier, is responsible. Many species died out during this period and have not recovered. However, the data suggests the region could support as many as 60 additional species, were it not for this shift.

"It is unclear how forests will respond in the future, when climate change is likely to accelerate," said Waring.

The work does suggest a couple of scenarios. If evergreen conifers move into new, previously treeless areas, for example, they could actually accelerate local warming because they would reflect less of the sun's heat than the snow they'd be replacing.

Alternatively, a shift in climate could increase diversity in some forests, making the forest more resistant to disease or infestations of insects. It could also make areas vulnerable to invasion by "alien" species, the researchers said. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.