Sep. 13, 1999 COLLEGE PARK -- A NASA research aircraft will fly over selected U.S. forests this month with an innovative laser instrument to find out for the first time just how much vegetation is in these forests. When this technology is launched into space next year aboard the NASA/University of Maryland Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL)spacecraft, it will create the first global maps of forest vegetation. Scientists will use these maps to monitor the health of forests and the capacity of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
VCL mission scientists will discuss the upcoming flights and will present new results from rain forest research flights conducted over Costa Rica in 1998 at a news media briefing Friday, Sept. 17 at 10 a.m. The briefing will be held at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., in Room 1124 of LeFrak Hall. The University's Geography Department will house command-and-control and data processing operations for the VCL mission. Scientists at the briefing include:
* Samuel Goward, chair, University of Maryland Geography Department
* Ralph Dubayah, VCL principal investigator, University of Maryland
* Bryan Blair, Instrument principal investigator, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
* Robert Knox, Forest ecologist and VCL science team member, NASA Goddard
The new instrument uses a sensor technology known as lidar (light detection and ranging) that other missions have used to map the surface of Mars and coastal erosion on Earth. The unique adaptation of this technology onboard VCL will accurately map the ground hidden beneath dense forests and measure the structure and density of the forest. VCL observations will aid scientists studying global climate change and monitoring forest ecosystems around the world.
The aircraft flights will map portions of three forests with the Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS), built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.). Flying aboard a NASA Wallops Flight Facility C-130 aircraft, LVIS will map eastern U.S. forests in Maryland, North Carolina, and New Hampshire beginning Sept. 16. Mapping in California's Sequoia National Forest starts Sept. 28. LVIS flights over the Costa Rican rain forest produced the first finescale measurements of topography hidden beneath the forest canopy, canopy height and structure, and tropical forest biomass using remote sensing.
Media briefings during the airborne campaigns are planned for NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Va., and Fresno, Calif. For more information,contact Lee Tune, University of Maryland Office of University Relations, tel. 301-405-4679; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The VCL lidar instrument contains five lasers that send pulses of energy to the Earth's surface. Photons from the lasers bounce off leaves, branches, and the ground and reflect back to the instrument. By analyzing these returned signals, scientists receive a direct measurement of the height of the forest's leaf-covered canopy, the ground-level below and everything in between.
VCL is scheduled for launch in September 2000 from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Complex. This will be the first orbital launch from the new Kodiak Island facility. The VCL mission is the first selected program of NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder project. The mission is led by the University of Maryland with collaboration from NASA Goddard's Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics and other academic and industrial contributors, including Orbital Sciences Corp., Omitron Inc., Swales Aerospace, Fibertek Inc., Raytheon, and Universal Space Network.
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