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The Kid Should See This

Why does this scientist shoot lasers at trees?

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“Growing up it was just always really clear to me that there is direct connection between human well-being and the quality of the environment around you,” explains NASA Goddard Research Physical Scientist Lola Fatoyinbo. Because of this, she studies trees to help support their health and the health of the planet.

In this clip from NOVA’s Can We Cool the Planet?, Fatoyinbo and her team shoot lasers at trees to measure how much carbon is stored in a given forest. “Generally speaking when we’re looking at trees, about half of that weight is carbon.”

scanning the forest

“‘We’re using a terrestrial laser scanner that shoots out billions of laser pulses every second, and then measures the distance from the instrument to whatever is around it. The data that we get back, we call it a point cloud.’

Billions of data points form a 3d measurement of forest volume and the carbon stored within. “It’s such a dense point cloud that it actually looks like an image you know almost like science fiction.”

But that’s not the end of the science-fiction-turned-reality. Fatoyinbo can also measure these forests from a refrigerator-size laser on the International Space Station, increasing the data gathered around the entire planet.

ISS scanner
lasers from space

“This research will give insight on the carbon new forests could store, as well as locate old forests that are holding lots of carbon that Lola believes we must preserve. And not just because they store carbon.

‘Forests are really important for our water supply. Forests protect us from heat. Forests breathe, in some ways just like we do. When you lose a lot of the ecosystem services that forests provide, that has a direct impact on the well-being of people.'”

NASA researcher Lola Fatoyinbo
File under: Conservation. Watch these related videos next:
• How can nature be used as a tool to restore ecosystems?
• PoSSUM Program Trains Scientists for Space Research
• What if there were 1 trillion more trees?
What happens if you cut down all of a city’s trees?
• Each Tree Is Its Own Adventure: Climbing giant sequoias for science

Bonus: Why are mangrove trees so important?

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