For years, it was believed that the drylands of West Africa were devoid of significant tree cover due to the harsh, arid conditions. However, using NASA’s Terra satellite, researchers were able to collect data on tree cover in the region. This data was then fed into supercomputers at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation, where powerful AI algorithms were used to analyze the data and generate a detailed map of tree cover in the area.
A team of scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and international collaborators have developed a new method to accurately map the location and size of trees outside of forests, uncovering billions of trees in arid and semi-arid regions and paving the way for more precise global measurement of carbon storage on land. The team used powerful supercomputers and machine learning algorithms to map the crown diameter of over 1.8 billion trees across an area of 1.3 million square kilometers, allowing them to study how tree crown diameter, coverage, and density varied depending on rainfall and land use. The breakthrough technology offers vital information for understanding Earth’s carbon cycle and its changes over time.
What is the significance of this new technology?
This breakthrough lays the groundwork for more accurate global measurement of carbon storage on land, providing vital information for understanding the Earth’s carbon cycle and how it is changing over time. Traditional methods for mapping non-forest trees with such detail would have taken a long time. The time it would take to map non-forest trees at this level of detail from months or years to just a few weeks. The use of advanced technology, such as high-resolution imagery and powerful AI, is a significant breakthrough in mapping and measuring these trees. This study is the first of a series of papers that aims to map non-forest trees over a large area and determine the amount of carbon they store, which is essential for comprehending the Earth’s carbon cycle and its changes over time.
NASA Estimates the Carbon Stored in African Dry Lands
The researchers found there are far more trees spread across semi-arid regions of Africa than previously thought, but that they also store less carbon than some models have predicted. In the new study, the team estimated roughly 0.84 petagrams of carbon are locked up in African drylands; a petagram is 1 billion metric tons. Having an accurate tree carbon estimate is essential for climate change projections, which are influenced by how long trees and other vegetation store carbon. This “carbon residence time,” as scientists call it, is very short for grasses and bushes, which grow seasonally, but much longer for trees that grow for years. Knowing how much carbon a landscape stores is dependent on knowing exactly what is growing there.
The use of high-resolution satellite imagery and AI algorithms to map and measure trees outside of forests, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. This research aims to improve our understanding of the distribution and density of trees in these areas, which are often overlooked in traditional forestry studies. It also seeks to quantify the amount of carbon stored in non-forest trees, which is critical information for understanding the global carbon cycle and mitigating climate change. The research could also have practical applications in land-use management, conservation, and reforestation efforts. Additionally, it could help in monitoring the health and growth of individual trees and identifying potential threats to forest ecosystems, such as deforestation, forest fires, and invasive species.
How can you contribute?
One of the most effective ways to increase the number of trees in dry lands is to plant them. There are many organizations and initiatives focused on planting trees in arid regions, and you can contribute by volunteering or donating.
Researchers need funding and support to continue their work mapping and monitoring trees in dry lands. You can contribute by supporting organizations and initiatives focused on this research.