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May 10, 2013

European Space Agency to Launch Satellite 'Biomass,' Observe Earth's Forests

By Robbie Pleasant, TMCnet Contributor

The planet has a new ally in the European Space Agency. Yes, the agency isn’t only concerned with that which is outside the planet, and is using its satellites to help map and monitor the global forests of Earth.

The Biomass mission will be the seventh Earth Explorer mission, using an innovative satellite to “weigh” the forests. This is the latest in a series of satellites used to help improve our understanding of our planet, brought to us by the ESA’s Earth Observation Programme Board.

With this satellite, we can receive P-band radar measurements taken from space. They’re optimized to determine the biomass and carbon stored in the world’s forests with incredible accuracy, thus enhancing our understanding of the importance of the forests in Earth’s carbon cycle and climate change.

This knowledge will also assist the implementations of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative. This international effort to reduce carbon emissions from the destruction of forests and land requires reliable and comprehensible knowledge of tropical forest biomass, which the satellite will provide. It also helps map the elevation of Earth’s terrain under dense vegetation, helping us better understand the form of the planet and providing more information on subsurface geology.

Furthermore, the Biomass mission can evolve into an operational system that provides long-term monitoring of the forests. It will be essential in quantifying forest biomass, thus improving our understanding of the carbon cycle, and the Earth as a whole.

There are currently three other satellites in orbit now, analyzing the Earth’s cryosphere, gravity, soil moisture and ocean salinity. This one is expected to launch in 2020, assuming all goes according to plan.

In spite of spending our entire lives living and depending on this planet, there is still much we don’t know about it, including the impact we have upon it. The Earth Observation Programme Board is doing much to further our collective knowledge with these satellites, and should gain valuable data that will be very helpful for bettering our knowledge of the state of the Earth.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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