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Airborne Carbon Assessments

Carbon is an essential building block for all living things, and it plays a major role in our climate system. The amount of carbon stored in both land and ocean systems is an area of intense scientific research. Carbon storage and sequestration has also grown in importance in the international political and economic arenas. Financial value is beginning to be placed on the storage of carbon in ecosystems as a means to combat carbon dioxide build-up in our atmosphere that leads to rising temperatures and other climate changes. Although the science of regional carbon storage assessments is still in its infancy, new remote sensing and modeling capabilities are continuing to be developed. 

The Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), directed by Prof. Greg Asner,  is the leading combination of technologies needed for regional carbon storage assessments in terrestrial ecosystems. The CAO waveform, small footprint LiDAR provides detailed measurements of vegetation height and vertical profile. The CAO spectrometer can indicate whether the vegetation is live or dead as well as the type of tree present. Combined, the CAO LiDAR and spectrometer can be used to map vegetation structure and biomass at high spatial resolution. 

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution and the U.S. Forest Service are developing biomass mapping approaches that utilize the detailed airborne hyperspectral-LiDAR observations needed for fully automated regional carbon assessments. Automation is critical for large-scale mapping studies because the volume of data generated by the CAO is extremely high. The CAO team and its collaborators are testing new approaches for assessing vegetation carbon stocks in tropical forest environments and elsewhere.