This image shows a small deforested patch with individual trees, colored by height. The densest biomass is red, while deforested areas — with low biomass — are shades of blue. Image courtesy of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. Click picture to enlarge.
High above the Amazon rainforest in Peru, a team of scientists and technicians is conducting an ambitious experiment: a biological survey of a never-before-explored tract of remote and inaccessible cloud forest. They are doing so using an advanced system that enables them to map the three-dimensional physical structure of the forest as well as its chemical and optical properties. The scientists hope to determine not only what species may lie below but also how the ecosystem is responding to last year's drought—the worst ever recorded in the Amazon—as well as help Peru develop a better mechanism for monitoring deforestation and degradation.
The system—conceived by Greg Asner, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science—has the potential to transform how tropical research is conducted. It could also help alleviate uncertainty about carbon emissions from deforestation and different forms of forest management, both of which are critical to REDD, a U.N. program designed to compensate tropical countries for reducing deforestation and forest degradation. Finally, the system may substantially improve understanding of tropical ecosystems.