National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Remote Sensing of Environment 115 (2011) 2753–2775; doi:10.1016/j.rse.2011.01.024


Human and natural forces are rapidly modifying the global distribution and structure of terrestrial ecosystems on which all of life depends, altering the global carbon cycle, affecting our climate now and for the foreseeable future, causing steep reductions in species diversity, and endangering Earth's sustainability. To understand changes and trends in terrestrial ecosystems and their functioning as carbon sources and sinks, and to characterize the impact of their changes on climate, habitat and biodiversity, new space assets are urgently needed to produce high spatial resolution global maps of the three-dimensional (3D) structure of vegetation, its biomass above ground, the carbon stored within and the implications for atmospheric green house gas concentrations and climate. These needs were articulated in a 2007 National Research Council (NRC) report (NRC, 2007) recommending a new satellite mission, DESDynI, carrying an L-band Polarized Synthetic Aperture Radar (Pol-SAR) and a multi-beam lidar (Light Ranging And Detection) operating at 1064 nm. The objectives of this paper are to articulate the importance of these new, multi-year, 3D vegetation structure and biomass measurements, to briefly review the feasibility of radar and lidar remote sensing technology tomeet these requirements, to define the data products and measurement requirements, and to consider implications of mission durations. The paper addresses these objectives by synthesizing research results and other input from a broad community of terrestrial ecology, carbon cycle, and remote sensing scientists and working groups.We conclude that:

(1) Current global biomass and 3-D vegetation structure information is unsuitable for both science and management and policy. The only existing global datasets of biomass are approximations based on combining land cover type and representative carbon values, instead of measurements of actual biomass. Current measurement attempts based on radar and multispectral data have lowexplanatory power outside low biomass areas. There is no current capability for repeatable disturbance and regrowth estimates.

(2) The science and policy needs for information on vegetation 3D structure can be successfully addressed by a mission capable of producing (i) a first global inventory of forest biomass with a spatial resolution 1 kmor finer and unprecedented accuracy (ii) annual global disturbance maps at a spatial resolution of 1 ha with subsequent biomass accumulation rates at resolutions of 1 km or finer, and (iii) transects of vertical and horizontal forest structure with 30 m along-transect measurements globally at 25 m spatial resolution, essential for habitat characterization.

Wealso show fromthe literature that lidar profile samples togetherwithwall-to-wall L-band quad-pol-SARimagery and ecosystem dynamics models can work together to satisfy these vegetation 3D structure and biomass measurement requirements. Finally we argue that the technology readiness levels of combined pol-SAR and lidar instruments are adequate for space flight. Remaining to be worked out, are the particulars of a lidar/pol-SARmission design that is feasible and at a minimum satisfies the information andmeasurement requirement articulated herein.