NASA To End Critical Forest Imagery Mission

NASA To End Critical Forest Imagery Mission

In 2018, NASA launched the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), a $150 million project from the International Space Station (ISS) designed to provide the first-ever comprehensive, 3D view into the role of the world’s forests. Thus far, the GEDI has collected valuable data regarding the effects of climate change on the carbon cycle. Researchers are finding that more carbon is stored in the Earth’s forests than previously thought, and future findings could have a critical role in monitoring the status of international deforestation commitments.

The mission is scheduled to end in early 2023. But the full extent of the GEDI’s potential is yet to be realized, causing forestry experts and GEDI researchers at the University of Maryland to pursue an extension from NASA.

NASA: Meet GEDI! The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation Sensor Aboard the ISS, August 10, 2021.

BBC: The Tragedy Of Deforestation | Climate Change - The Facts, November 11, 2021.

Why This Matters

At COP26, over 100 countries representing 85% of the world’s forests pledged to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.” However, without a common scientific understanding, analyzing the efficacy of land-use commitments is impossible. As IPPC author and remote sensing expert, Inge Jonckheere told the Guardian, “every country can come up with its own definition of a forest. Countries can just fill in numbers and then everybody has to take them as the truth. But with satellites, we can check them.”

Google Earth: Our Forests | Timelapse in Google Earth, April 15, 2021.

ABC: Killing the Amazon: How the rainforest is faring under deforestation, November 9, 2021.

The Amazon’s Tipping Point

The implications of GEDI data are endless when it comes to the Amazon rainforest. Currently, the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink sits at a tipping point, mainly due to prolonged deforestation. Researchers say that it is increasingly at risk of becoming a dry savannah. According to Fred Stolle, deputy director of the Forests Program at the World Resources Institute, GEDI data could “allow us to find important areas of forest and say: do not touch this.”

Reversing deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere will require targeted, deliberate, and prolonged efforts. “The biggest uncertainty we have in terms of atmospheric CO2 concentrations driving climate change is the balance between deforestation and subsequent regrowth,” said University of Maryland professor Ralph Dubayah. “GEDI is helping us address that. If you want to plant a trillion trees, go ahead. But you have to know what kind of impact that’s going to have.

Bloomberg Quicktake: The Brazilian Amazon's Tipping Point May Already Be Here, September 28, 2021.

Forest 500: A climate wake-up: but business failing to hear the alarm on deforestation, January 12, 2022.