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The ISS Will be Spying on Earths Plants

Aug 02, 2014 05:33 PM EDT

NASA has recently announced the selection of two proposals to build new instruments that will allow the International Space Station (ISS) to monitor the Earth's plant life. Predictably, NASA is most interested in monitoring how climate change and human influence is affecting the planet's vegetation.

"We are excited to expand the use of the International Space Station to make critical Earth observations that will help scientists understand the diversity of forests and vegetation and their response to a changing climate," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a recent statement.

According to Grunsfeld, the two new "Earth Venture Instruments" (EVI) will cost an estimated $125 million to build, and will be completed by 2019 at the latest.

"These innovative Earth Venture Instruments will join a growing suite of NASA Earth-observing sensors to be deployed to the station starting this year," Grunsfeld added.

The EVI are part of a larger NASA goal to better assess the Earth's health, assessing the damage and even benefits encroaching climate change has on ecological systems and agriculture.

Just last month, NASA's Ship-Aircraft Bio-Optical Research (SABOR) started making coordinated flights over Arctic oceans, testing new instruments designed to measure phytoplankton prevalence. These are arguably some of the most important plant-like organisms in the world, filling the earth's oceans, producing half the planet's oxygen, and serving as a significant carbon dioxide sink.

The EVI will focus on the other half of that all-important equation, tracking tree coverage and water consumption by vegetation. Carbon cycles and water scarcity are considered some of the most immediate factors of climate change, and are heavily influenced by plant-life.

With NASA having its sights set on monitoring the "now," climate and agricultural researchers have turned their attention to the future, recently launching a number of efforts to predict the effects increased carbon dioxide levels will have on forests even as far as 75 years from now.

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