New technology allows detailed mapping of forests

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forest mapping technology
Already a popular maxim says that you need to know to preserve. If the saying is true, the new forest monitoring system created by the Carnegie Institution for Science, which offers a detailed mapping for vegetation, promises to be of great value for nature conservation. The question is whether this technology is actually used to help keep our forests standing and nourish our hope of a greener future.

The Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System (Air Taxonomic Mapping System - Atoms) was designed by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution researcher from Carnegie Airborne Observatory (Carnegie Airborne Observatory - EAC), and can capture images of individual trees at a rate of 500 thousand or more per minute, allowing scientists to create a high-resolution three-dimensional map of the physical structure, chemistry and optics of the forest.

According to Asner, the system used in the Amazon, mainly aims to measure the biodiversity of forests. "The idea was to measure things that botanists measure to assess soil biodiversity. There was no technology that could measure each of the features we needed, so we decided to put together technology that was close to making some of these things. Alongside this, we develop some new technologies, "said the scientist.

One such technology is known as LiDAR, and consists of two lasers that penetrate the vegetation and reach the ground, returning with information on forest structure. Depending on the altitude of the plane where the LiDAR is transported, the sensors can map the forest with resolutions ranging from 10 centimeters to one meter, which makes possible a detailed analysis of plant diversity.

In addition to the vegetation, this technology is also very efficient at capturing information on the structure, elevations and relief of the soil, forest biomass, basins and waterways and even the amount of carbon stored in vegetation and soil.

But to identify the structures captured by LiDAR, including those that can not be seen with the naked eye, scientists must know the characteristics and species of the region traced. For this, they use the sensor VSWIR Imaging Spectrometer (VSWIR Imaging Spectrometer).

This sensor can detect dozens of signs of vegetation, including the concentrations of photosynthetic pigments, water content of leaves and structural compounds such as lignin, cellulose, phosphorus and other micronutrients that can be used to distinguish plant species and other issues related to the condition of forests.

"When the leaves interact with sunlight, the compound bow, stretch and vibrate in different patterns and rates. These different rates lead to different dispersion of light. This is the gateway to understand the chemistry of the system. We can make a map of where the trees are growing faster. The spectrometer is an important discovery, "said Asner.

But to gain this knowledge, researchers must first do field work to collect information about the properties of plants and puts them in a database that feeds the system library.

In the Amazon, Asner's team made a field study to gather information about five thousand species of plants. "We have the best team of tree climbers in the world. They can climb trees for 75 days, making the total sample, "said the scientist.

With the new system, it is possible to identify the characteristics of vegetation in areas where man can not come, because from the samples collected, you can see the diversity of species in other parts of the Amazon. "We are looking at biodiversity in areas that had never been placed on the map of science," says Asner.

Besides serving to map the biodiversity of the region, the new system may help to measure the carbon storage in vegetation and soil - aiding the development of programs such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) - and the growth rate vegetation - contributing to the monitoring of forest preservation and conservation.

"The forest soils have Pleistocene retains 20% less carbon. The only way to know this is the sensor. Visually, everything looks the same seen from above, "exemplifies Asner. "With its expanded capabilities, the new CAO helps us to understand the chemistry, structure and biodiversity of the forest. It can also provide indications of forest health - including evidence of water stress - as well as potential threats from human activity. "

However, to apply the new technology in other forests, scientists ensure that further studies are needed. "The botanical diversity in both places where we work is very well documented. However, applying this method in a new area will require data collection in the field, "said Pete Lowry, director of the Department of Africa and Madagascar Missouri Botanical Garden and has worked with Asner in previous research.

Still, other scholars believe that the new technology can be particularly useful in conducting biological assessments in unfamiliar areas. "Any tool that gives a first order approximation without the high costs of bringing a large team of expedition will be a valuable tool," he said ecologist Adrian Forsyth, founder and leader of the Amazon Conservation Association.

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