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09/05/2013 07:05pm

Satellite to be launched to map earth's forests

image Satellite to be launched to map earth's forests
New Delhi, May 9 (KNN)   The European Space Agency (ESA) has given the green light for the launch of a satellite called Biomass in 2020 to monitor the planet’s forests, according to a BBC Science report.

“The spacecraft will carry a novel radar system that is able to sense the trunks and big branches of trees from orbit.  Scientists will use Biomass to calculate the amount of carbon stored in the world’s forests and to monitor for any changes over the course of the five year mission,” it said.

Given that forests influence climate change largely by affecting the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the satellite’s data would help researchers comprehend clearly, the role trees play in cycling of carbon on earth and its influence on the earth’s climate. 

One of the key proposers of the mission is Professor Shaun Quegan.  In fact, the earth observation mission to measure the world’s forests from space is the brain child of the University of Sheffield professor.

"Biomass will give us unprecedented knowledge on the state of the world's forests and how they are changing," Prof Quegan told BBC News. 

"This will give us a firm basis for treaties that aim to help developing countries preserve their forests, such as the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative.

"In addition, Biomass will return information on national forestry resources, and that's important for things like energy and biodiversity," he said.

Esa's Earth Observation Programme Board on Tuesday approved the 400m-euro Biomass mission that will obtain data on issues of pressing environmental concern.

Thus far, ESA has launched a series of earth explorers and Biomass is the seventh; the others being Goce in 2009 to map variations in earth’s gravity, Smos to study ocean salinity and soil moisture, Cryosat-2 in 2010 to measure the shape and thickness of polar ice, Swarm to map earth’s magnetism, Aeolus to measure winds across the globe; and Earthcare to examine the role of clouds and aerosols in climate change. 

Biomass will be a 1.2-tonne satellite at launch.  “Its sole instrument will send down a 70cm radar pulse that will penetrate the leafy canopies of forests but scatter back off the large woody parts of trees. It will sense the volume of material at a resolution of about 200m,” the report said.

By doing so it will be able to weigh the amount of carbon tied up in the world's forests.  A 12m reflector antenna will be needed to capture the return signal from the radar pulse. (KNN)

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