GEDI, NASA’s massive LiDAR instrument, to map the world’s forests in 3D

By on 9 May, 2018

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation Lidar (GEDI) is being assembled in a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Image provided by NASA.

NASA’s  Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) laser instrument is undergoing final integration and testing at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, putting it on a fast-track for launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

Yes, it’s pronounced “Jedi” — NASA’s media department is quick to point out, making the announcement of the new mission’s progress on May 4 — Star Wars Day.

Cute puns aside, GEDI will be on a fascinating and important mission. It will be the first space-borne laser instrument to conduct high resolution, three dimensional mapping of the world’s tropical and temperate rainforests. NASA says the GEDI mission’s goals are to measure: ‘the amount of carbon stored in forests globally, the potential for ecosystems to absorb rising concentrations the potential for ecosystems to absorb rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, and the impact of forest changes on biodiversity.’

GEDI is specifically designed to measure forests, and will use three lasers to generate eight ground tracks in total, which it will use to measure density and height of vegetation of trees, and will have the resolution to discern the structure of individual leaves and branches in a forest’s canopy.

“Scientists have been planning for decades to get comprehensive information about the structure of forests from space to deepen our understanding of how this structure impacts carbon resources and biodiversity across large regions and even globally, as well as a host of other science issues,” said Ralph Dubayah, GEDI principal investigator and a professor of geographical sciences at the University of Maryland.

“This is why seeing the instrument built and racing toward launch is so exciting.”

GEDI is expected to launch aboard SpaceX’s 16th commercial resupply services mission, targeted for late 2018.

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