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Though they cover 30 percent of Earth’s total land area, we know remarkably little about how much biomass and carbon are contained in the planet’s forests. A new satellite will be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in an attempt to expand this area of knowledge, and learn more about the viability of current and future conservation tactics. The satellite, named Biomass, will use advanced sensors to map and monitor every tree-covered portion of the planet, “weighing” their biomass and hidden carbon. ESA scientists hope new data collected by the satellites will help researchers understand better the role trees play in the cycling of carbon on Earth and, by extension, the influence this has on the planet’s climate.
The 400 million euro Biomass satellite will provide, for the first time from space, P-band radar measurements that are optimized to determine the amount of biomass and carbon stored in the world’s forests with greater accuracy than ever before, according to the ESA. For the tropics, and especially important and threatened ecosystem, this information will allow for better implementation of the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative – an international effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation in developing countries.
In addition, the measurements made by Biomass offer the opportunity to map the elevation of Earth’s terrain under dense vegetation, yielding information on subsurface geology and allowing the estimation of glacier and ice-sheet velocities, critical to our understanding of ice-sheet mass loss in a warming Earth.
The satellite will be the seventh of the agency’s so-called Earth Explorers – a series of spacecraft that are designed to do innovative science in obtaining data on issues of pressing environmental concern,” reports the BBC. It is scheduled for launch in 2020.