Map of Forest Canopy Height

NASA released a global map of the height of forests on June 20. The cutout jpg file of the globe can be found here, and one for the United States is found here. The NASA press release claims that while regional maps of forest canopy have been compiled before, this is the first global map plotting the data. The data were obtained from NASA’s ICESat, Terra, and Aqua satellites.

Michael A. Lefsky, of the Department of Forest Sciences, Colorado State University, the lead author of the article “Estimates of forest canopy height and aboveground biomass using ICESat” in Geophysical Research Letters (abstract; article behind pay wall), explains how the data were compiled:

“While the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) onboard the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) has collected an unparalleled dataset of lidar waveforms over terrestrial targets, processing of ICESat data to estimate forest height is complicated by the pulse broadening associated with large‐footprint, waveform‐sampling lidar. We combined ICESat waveforms and ancillary topography from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission to estimate maximum forest height in three ecosystems; tropical broadleaf forests in Brazil, temperate broadleaf forests in Tennessee, and temperate needleleaf forests in Oregon. Final models for each site explained between 59% and 68% of variance in field‐measured forest canopy height (RMSE between 4.85 and 12.66 m).”

Background information on the ISESat/GLAS can be found at the site hosted by the University of Texas. The NASA press release above contains a number of links to relates subjects including its primer on the carbon cycle.

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