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  • Dan Powers

NASA, NEON Partner on Tree Canopy Impact Study on Remote Sensing Measurements

A new, three-year study funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will study tree canopies using data from NASA satellites and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Program. The biochemistry, physiology, and orientation of foliage is a key driver of productivity in forests. By studying the ecosystem and canopy structure, researchers can learn how trees grow, how trees provide different habitats for various animals, and what factors affect how trees “breathe” and exchange carbon dioxide with the atmosphere.

In addition, the research will provide better understanding of baseline vegetation chemistry and forest health, and can help in the early detection of invasive species. It can also help reveal how the chemical properties of leaves and tree canopy structures affect remote sensing observations.

“The goal of the research is to understand the linkages between canopy structure and the leaf traits that influence photosynthetic capacity,” said NEON’s Keith Krause, who is leading the research. “This should allow us to improve our interpretation of remote sensing data and to better map and monitor rates of productivity in forest ecosystems.”

NASA’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science program, will be led by scientists from Battelle, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of New Hampshire using data from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) program. Researchers will use two existing NEON sites for the study —the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts and the Bartlett Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. Field measurements and remote sensing data from the sites will be augmented with simulations of realistic forests where trade studies will be performed to better understand how changes in leaf chemistry and canopy structure affect the remote sensing signals.

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