NASA Extends Life of GEDI: Key Instrument for Climate Change and Earth’s Topography Analysis

By Sarnith Varun

March 28, 2023
gedi on the international space station for storage
GEDI (right foreground) is mounted on the space station’s Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility. In the background, an astronaut performs a spacewalk. Credit: Astronaut David Saint-Jacques

NASA has granted an extension to the GEDI mission, which uses lasers to measure the health and structure of forests on Earth.

The $100m sensor was due to be destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere, but forest experts appealed to NASA to work out a solution to it.

The sensor, which created the first 3D map of the world’s forests, will now be put back into service from the International Space Station (ISS) as NASA decided to extend GEDI’s operation until ISS’s decommissioning in the year 2031.

Last month, NASA issued the following statement regarding the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission aboard the International Space Station1:

The International Space Station offers a unique hosting opportunity for Earth science payloads where NASA can test new instrument approaches that can make major contributions to understanding the changing planet.

NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) aboard the space station is one of the multiple instruments from the agency and others providing critical information about the Earth system and the effects of climate change.

Demand is high for external attachment points on the station, and GEDI is scheduled to be temporarily replaced by a Department of Defense payload after more than four years of operations. However, the agency is planning to keep the instrument in space and reinstall it to continue through the life of the space station.

“The proposed solution calls for temporarily moving GEDI to an alternate location, where it will remain offline for about 18 months while a DOD technology payload completes its mission. In 2024, GEDI will return to its original location and resume operations on the station.”

Now, GEDI could provide data until 2031, giving scientists insights into the impact of deforestation on atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Features of GEDI: Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) is a key climate and biodiversity sensor developed by NASA and the University of Maryland.

It was launched and stationed at the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2018 and has been providing valuable information about the world’s forests. 

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GEDI uses a laser measurement system that can accurately measure the structure and health of Earth’s forests.

It sends out laser beams toward the ground and measures the time taken for the light to bounce back, providing a detailed picture of the forest canopy.

The laser system generates millions of data points that are used to create a detailed map of the forest canopy, allowing scientists to better understand forest structure and function.2

GEDI provided the first 3D map of the world’s forests and it also provides valuable information about how much carbon is stored in forests. 

Through the measurement of forest structure and biomass, scientists can estimate the amount of carbon stored in a particular forest, which is important for understanding the global carbon cycle and the impact of deforestation on atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

This also helps scientists better understand the impact of forest fires on carbon storage and the global climate.

Advantages of Extending GEDI’s Life

Researchers overseeing the project, based at the University of Maryland, said Gedi would have the chance to finish its work and calibrate its results with other satellites due to launch this decade that will monitor the planet’s ecosystems.

The data obtained from GEDI is helping to address longstanding issues on the role of forests in the carbon cycle especially the impact of deforestation and degradation on atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Extending Gedi until the end of the decade is incredibly exciting at a time when we need to understand how forests are changing in light of climate change, mass restoration efforts, shifting fire and disturbance regimes, and hopefully reduced deforestation.”

Laura Duncanson, a research scientist on the GEDI team

NASA’s decision to continue the Gedi mission is crucial in tackling climate change as the global data about the state of Earth’s ecosystems is important to understand climate change and fight against it.

The Gedi data can help us understand how natural and anthropogenic disturbances are impacting forests and their functioning.

Gedi’s return in 2025 is perfect for further reporting on the Paris Accords, and it may well provide a decade-long set of observations of the structure and biomass of forests.

What are Paris Accords?

Paris Accords or the Paris Climate Accords is an international treaty on climate change. Adopted in 2015, the agreement covers climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance.

References

  1. Joseph Smith, ‘NASA Announces Pause in GEDI Mission‘, NASA Earth Data, 17 March 2023[]
  2. The University of Maryland, ‘GEDI’, “GEDI has the highest resolution and densest sampling of any lidar ever put in orbit. This has required a number of innovative technologies to be developed at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.”, https://gedi.umd.edu/[]
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