News / Science & Technology

    Earth-Imaging Yields Hi-Res Look at Ecosystems

    NASA operates the Airborne Science ER-2 aircraft for a wide variety of environmental science, atmospheric sampling and satellite data verification missions, undated NASA file photo.
    NASA operates the Airborne Science ER-2 aircraft for a wide variety of environmental science, atmospheric sampling and satellite data verification missions, undated NASA file photo.
    Rosanne Skirble
    The U.S. space agency is adapting tools it has used to learn about water on the moon, minerals on Mars and the composition of exoplanets to analyze ecosystems on planet Earth. NASA this week finished a month of preliminary high-altitude tests of a new Earth-imaging instrument package, which the agency plans to launch into orbit.
     
    The instruments have been flying on NASA’s ER-2, an aircraft that skirts the edge of space at an altitude of 20,000 meters, nearly two times the cruising altitude of commercial jetliners.
     
    California's San Andreas Fault region captured by the HyspIRI airborne campaign equipment, March 29, 2013: Red areas are composed of minerals high in silica, such as urban areas; darker and cooler areas are composed of water and heavy vegetation, NASA file image.California's San Andreas Fault region captured by the HyspIRI airborne campaign equipment, March 29, 2013: Red areas are composed of minerals high in silica, such as urban areas; darker and cooler areas are composed of water and heavy vegetation, NASA file image.
    x
    California's San Andreas Fault region captured by the HyspIRI airborne campaign equipment, March 29, 2013: Red areas are composed of minerals high in silica, such as urban areas; darker and cooler areas are composed of water and heavy vegetation, NASA file image.
    California's San Andreas Fault region captured by the HyspIRI airborne campaign equipment, March 29, 2013: Red areas are composed of minerals high in silica, such as urban areas; darker and cooler areas are composed of water and heavy vegetation, NASA file image.
    The imaging tools gather data about how different wavelengths of light interact with landscape molecules and particles to produce a spectral fingerprint. According to Robert Green, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and principal investigator on the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager or  airborne campaign (HyspIRI), sensors for an instrument called the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer precisely measure the light and temperature characteristics of each ecosystem the plane overflies.
     
    “We can see the interaction of the molecules that are present in the earth’s atmosphere, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide, and on the earth’s surface in plants such as cellulous and leaf water and the other constituents of plants," he said.
     
    The tool, whose imaging spectroscopy technology was tested over California’s varied landscape, can also measure the impact of surface events such as volcanic eruptions, wildfires and droughts.
     
    “We have snow-covered mountains, we have coasts, we have agriculture, we have deserts, we have forested areas," Green said of the testing region along the nation's western edge. "So in one fairly small region of the country, we can capture a tremendous diversity of ecosystems and environments found on the surface of the Earth.”
     
    Green says each pixel captured by the imager holds a wealth of information invisible to the human eye. “We can map the species type. We can look at the bio-geochemistry of the plants, [and determine] the state of the chemicals in the leaves of the plant to tell us about their health and productivity," he said. "In the geology area, we can look at the different mineral signatures, which tell us the molecules in the rocks to know exactly what those minerals are.”
     
    The test flights, he adds, are part of preparations for an eventual satellite mission that will provide global coverage from low-Earth orbit, about 700 kilometers above the planet.
     
    “This would give us global direct measurements of molecules and temperatures of the Earth’s surface, repeated each year, so we could see seasonal and temporal variations," he said.
     
    The HyspIRI satellite mission is still in the study phase, with ER-2 test-flights continuing through 2014.
     
    Green says the new images of the planet could help scientists better assess how Earth is changing and possibly help policymakers and the public make better-informed decisions about how humans can adapt to the changes.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora