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. The system is one of two instrument proposals recently selected for NASA’s Earth Venture Instrument program and is being led by the University of Maryland, College Park. The instrument will be built at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
This week, NASA released details of a newly approved project: the Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar. The probe is scheduled for completion in 2018, and will eventually be launched to the International Space Station. There, from its orbital perch, the GEDI will shoot its trio of specialized lasers at the Earth. Though that sounds like something a Bond villain will do, GEDI is most assuredly part of the effort to save the planet, not explode it. Its lasers are of the lidar variety—designed to shoot pulses, then analyze the reflected light. Its like radar but with light (thus the portmanteau lidar). The probe’s mission is to create a three-dimensional scan of every forest on the planet between the latitudes of 50 degrees north and 50 degrees south. It’s an ambitious amount of land to cover, and it includes most of the planet’s temperate and tropical forests. Ultimately, the goal is to tackle one of the biggest ongoing questions in Earth sciences: the amount of carbon stored in global forests. “GEDI will be a tremendous new resource for studying Earth’s vegetation,” said Piers Sellers, deputy director of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate, in a NASA statement.