The Carnegie Institution for Science has announced a $1.8 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to create a database of plant chemical and remote sensing signatures for tropical forest species.
The grant will provide funding for a ground-based "spectranomics" project that expands the organization's aerial mapping and remote-sensing capabilities, enabling it to inventory and track rain forest vegetation around the globe while enhancing the value of satellite observations over tropical forest regions. A team of researchers will strategically collect plant samples on foot and analyze their properties to establish a library with chemical fingerprints of thousands of individual species. Spectroscopic measurements will also be performed to link the chemistry to light-reflecting spectra that can later be obtained from the air.
The ground-based project will complement the work of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) system, which uses waveform LiDAR (light detection and ranging) to map the three-dimensional structure of vegetation and combines it with advanced spectroscopic imaging. By analyzing different wavelengths of reflected light, the imaging reveals the biochemistry of an area in stunningly beautiful 3-D maps. Designed and operated by Carnegie's department of global ecology, and tested and proven in the rain forests of Hawaii, the system can map as much as forty thousand acres of forest canopy a day.
"This grant to the will allow our team to accomplish something that's never been done before," said Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution's department of global ecology. "The spectranomics project will help us to build a species database in different tropical forests of Africa, Southeast Asia, Amazonia, the Caribbean, and the western Pacific. Information derived from the project will be a huge boon for rain forest mapping, and thus for conservation and management around the world."