Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA Study Points to Infrared-Herring in Apparent Amazon Green-Up

07.02.2014
For the past eight years, scientists have been working to make sense of why some satellite data seemed to show the Amazon rain forest "greening-up" during the region's dry season each year from June to October. The green-up indicated productive, thriving vegetation in spite of limited rainfall.

Now, a new NASA study published today in the journal Nature shows that the appearance of canopy greening is not caused by a biophysical change in Amazon forests, but instead by a combination of shadowing within the canopy and the way that satellite sensors observe the Amazon during the dry season.


This natural-color image shows the importance of sun-sensor geometry. On the left, sunlight is backscattered by the Amazon rain forest, making green leaves appear brighter in some areas. To the right, sunglint makes the dark waters of the Amazon River and flooded wetlands appear silver or white. Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory

Correcting for this artifact in the data, Doug Morton, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues show that Amazon forests, at least on the large scale, maintain a fairly constant greenness and canopy structure throughout the dry season. The findings have implications for how scientists seek to understand seasonal and interannual changes in Amazon forests and other ecosystems.

"Scientists who use satellite observations to study changes in Earth's vegetation need to account for seasonal differences in the angles of solar illumination and satellite observation," Morton said.

Isolating the apparent green-up mechanism

The MODIS, or Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, sensors that fly aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites make daily observations over the huge expanse of Amazon forests. An area is likely covered in green vegetation if sensors detect a relatively small amount of red light – absorbed in abundance by plants for photosynthesis – but see a large amount of near-infrared light, which plants primarily reflect. Scientists use the ratio of red and near-infrared light as a measure of vegetation "greenness."

Numerous hypotheses have been put forward to explain why Amazon forests appear greener in MODIS data as the dry season progresses. Perhaps young leaves, known to reflect more near-infrared light, replace old leaves? Or, possibly trees add more leaves to capture sunlight in the dry season when the skies are less cloudy.

Unsettled by the lack of definitive evidence explaining the magnitude of the green-up, Morton and colleagues set out to better characterize the phenomenon. They culled satellite observations from MODIS and NASA's Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) Geosciences Laser Altimeter System (GLAS), which can provide an independent check on the seasonal differences in Amazon forest structure.

The team next used a theoretical model to demonstrate how changes in forest structure or reflectance properties have distinct fingerprints in MODIS and GLAS data. Only one of the hypothesized mechanisms for the green-up, changes in sun-sensor geometry, was consistent with the satellite observations.

"We think we have uncovered the mechanism for the appearance of seasonal greening of Amazon forests – shadowing within the canopy that changes the amount of near-infrared light observed by MODIS," Morton said.

Seeing the Amazon in a new light

In June, when the sun is as low and far north as it will get, shadows are abundant. By September, around the time of the equinox, Amazon forests at the equator are illuminated from directly overhead. At this point the forest canopy is shadow-free, highly reflective in the infrared, and therefore very green according to some satellite vegetation indices.

"Around the equinox, the MODIS sensor takes the 'perfect picture' with no shadows," Morton said. "The change in shadows is amplified in MODIS data because the sun is directly behind the sensor at the equinox. This seasonal change in MODIS greenness has nothing to do with how forests are changing."

In fact, accounting for the changing geometry between the sun and satellite sensor paints a picture of the Amazon that, as a whole, doesn't change much through the dry season.

"Additional work is needed to verify these results with field measurements, and to explore the influence of drought on corrected vegetation indices," said Scott Goetz, an ecologist at Woods Hole Research Center in Woods Hole, Mass., who was not involved with the Nature study. "But past interpretations of productivity changes need to be reconsidered in light of these new results."

Looking forward, Morton sees the results as a reminder and opportunity for remote sensing scientists to work more closely with ground-based ecosystem scientists.

"Scaling our knowledge of forest canopies from measurements of individual leaves to satellite observations of the entire Amazon basin requires a deep understanding of both forest ecology and remote sensing science," Morton said. "This interdisciplinary collaboration is critical to improve our understanding of the patterns and processes driving changes in vegetation productivity."

Kathryn Hansen
NASA's Earth Science News Team

Kathryn Hansen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Two satellites see newborn Tropical Storm Jimena consolidating
28.08.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NASA's GPM satellite analyzes Tropical Storm Erika's rainfall
28.08.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: OU astrophysicist and collaborators find supermassive black holes in quasar nearest Earth

A University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The discovery of two supermassive black holes--one larger one and a second, smaller one--are evidence of a binary black hole and suggests that supermassive...

Im Focus: What would a tsunami in the Mediterranean look like?

A team of European researchers have developed a model to simulate the impact of tsunamis generated by earthquakes and applied it to the Eastern Mediterranean. The results show how tsunami waves could hit and inundate coastal areas in southern Italy and Greece. The study is published today (27 August) in Ocean Science, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Though not as frequent as in the Pacific and Indian oceans, tsunamis also occur in the Mediterranean, mainly due to earthquakes generated when the African...

Im Focus: Self-healing landscape: landslides after earthquake

In mountainous regions earthquakes often cause strong landslides, which can be exacerbated by heavy rain. However, after an initial increase, the frequency of these mass wasting events, often enormous and dangerous, declines, in fact independently of meteorological events and aftershocks.

These new findings are presented by a German-Franco-Japanese team of geoscientists in the current issue of the journal Geology, under the lead of the GFZ...

Im Focus: FIC Proteins Send Bacteria Into Hibernation

Bacteria do not cease to amaze us with their survival strategies. A research team from the University of Basel's Biozentrum has now discovered how bacteria enter a sleep mode using a so-called FIC toxin. In the current issue of “Cell Reports”, the scientists describe the mechanism of action and also explain why their discovery provides new insights into the evolution of pathogens.

For many poisons there are antidotes which neutralize their toxic effect. Toxin-antitoxin systems in bacteria work in a similar manner: As long as a cell...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer IPA develops prototype of intelligent care cart

It comes when called, bringing care utensils with it and recording how they are used: Fraunhofer IPA is developing an intelligent care cart that provides care staff with physical and informational support in their day-to-day work. The scientists at Fraunhofer IPA have now completed a first prototype. In doing so, they are continuing in their efforts to improve working conditions in the care sector and are developing solutions designed to address the challenges of demographic change.

Technical assistance systems can improve the difficult working conditions in residential nursing homes and hospitals by helping the staff in their work and...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Networking conference in Heidelberg for outstanding mathematicians and computer scientists

20.08.2015 | Event News

Scientists meet in Münster for the world’s largest Chitin und Chitosan Conference

20.08.2015 | Event News

Large agribusiness management strategies

19.08.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Interstellar seeds could create oases of life

28.08.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

An ounce of prevention: Research advances on 'scourge' of transplant wards

28.08.2015 | Health and Medicine

Fish Oil-Diet Benefits May be Mediated by Gut Microbes

28.08.2015 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>