Department of Geography

Ecology from above

Can we improve our estimates of current and future carbon in forested ecosystems using satellite earth observation?

We are fortunate that about half of all the Carbon pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and other human activities has been absorbed in natural ‘sinks’ including the world’s forests. This has effectively ‘buffered’ us against the full effect on climate of our carbon emissions. Will these sinks continue to operate in this way? It is not yet clear and to understand the land carbon sink we need detailed information on forest structure and functional type (which determine carbon, water, and energy fluxes) but over large scales. This is not possible from the traditional ground-based inventories within small experimental plots. The beauty of Earth observation techniques such as radar, lidar, and hyperspectral imagery is that it can accurately derive these important plant characteristics in great detail but over large areas. This information can then be used to improve near-term predictions of carbon fluxes from terrestrial biosphere models. Its a complicated task but Alex Antonarakis’ research is at the cutting edge of this mission.

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