Carnegie Institution for Science’s Greg Asner says most of today’s Earth observation tools lack “the richness of data needed to understand the impact that humans are having on Earth.”
At last weeks Wired 2012 event in London, Asner told the audience, “Regular NASA satellite imagery of Earth shows ice sheets, the brown of the desert and the green of the rainforest—but where is the scale of human enterprise in this process?”
Asner and his team at the Carnegie Institution for Science have been building a system that analyzes the surface of our planet in much richer detail. “We are no longer exploring a planet that’s devoid of people or change,” he said. “We feel that understanding what’s going on in these systems is challenging as the technology doesn’t allow it. These systems are too vast, too complex and changing too quickly.”
Asner and team have been using the unique reflective properties of light across its entire spectrum to analyze Earth’s surface. The system incorporates high-fidelity spectroscopy to image the world in hundreds of colors, “not just the ones we see visually.” This helps to understand the composition of the atmosphere, soil, water and vegetation. They also use lasers to build 3-D images of research areas, such as the Amazon basin, in high resolution.