Early concept for new mission: A Spaceborne Multispectral Canopy Lidar

Project: Research

Description

Our Aim This project aims to develop and design a new satellite mission. This new mission concept will be a spaceborne multi-spectral canopy lidar (called SpeCL, 'speckle') that can measure the vertical profile of a forest and simultaneously determine the spectral characteristics of that profile. Since lidars can provide highly detailed 3D information on the structure of forest they have great potential in reducing the uncertainties in the terrestrial carbon cycle and of supporting the accurate mapping of land cover. The primary scientific objective of the SpeCL mission would be to determine the global distribution of above ground biomass in the world's forests using an appropriate sampling strategy, and to reduce uncertainties in the calculations of carbon stocks and fluxes associated with the terrestrial biosphere. Why is this important? Greenhouse gases associated with forestry (deforestation and degradation) accounts for roughly 17% of global emissions, more than the entire global transport network. A recent report to the Prime Minister (the 2008 Eliasch Review on Financing Global Forests) predicts that without action, the global economic cost of climate change caused by deforestation alone could reach $1 trillion a year by 2100. Most emissions of carbon from land-use change are currently from the tropics as a result of deforestation, which releases the carbon stored in biomass and soils to the atmosphere (as CO2) as organic matter is burned or decays. The regular monitoring and assessment of land cover change is therefore essential to understand the extent and impact of natural and anthropogenic changes Furthermore, analysis of the global carbon cycle shows that the annual emissions of carbon are larger than the annual accumulations of carbon in the atmosphere and oceans, suggesting a terrestrial sink for carbon in addition to that attributable to changes in land use. Remarkably, this as yet unexplained residual sink seems to have increased over the last decades in proportion to total carbon emissions, implying that carbon feedbacks are offsetting each other. This balance is unlikely to persist. The SpeCL mission is an opportunity to constrain both the net emissions of carbon from land-use/land-use change, and the residual terrestrial sink. Any further delay in understanding the carbon budget may have serious long term consequences if we leave too little time to respond. How will we do it? Edinburgh has pioneered the development of the world's first Multi Spectral Canopy Lidar (patent number 0808340.4). Using seedcorn funding from CEOI, we built the first 4-wavelength lidar, demonstrated its use in the lab and modelled the seasonal response. An airborne MSCL (A-MSCL) instrument has been designed and proposed to NERC on July 1st. In anticipation of future mission opportunities (and the long lead time required), there exists an imminent need for determining the feasibility and technical readiness of a spaceborne MSCL. In the first instance we will create a concept for the high cost, but low risk option of a traditional small satellite configuration with a cost ceiling of £100M. We will then aim to develop this concept to an ultra-low cost (<£5M), rapid deployment (within 3 years) micro-satellite platform using off-the-shelf components and where appropriate, 'proved' technologies. To this end we will consider the highly novel, high risk, but very low cost option of using a modular CubeSat platform.

Key findings

This project developed and designed a new satellite mission. This new mission concept uses a spaceborne multi-spectral canopy lidar (called SpeCL, 'speckle') that can measure the vertical profile of a forest and simultaneously determine the spectral characteristics of that profile. Since lidars can provide highly detailed 3D information on the structure of forest they have great potential in reducing the uncertainties in the terrestrial carbon cycle and of supporting the accurate mapping of land cover. The primary scientific objective of the SpeCL mission is to determine the global distribution of above ground biomass in the world's forests using an appropriate sampling strategy, and to reduce uncertainties in the calculations of carbon stocks and fluxes associated with the terrestrial biosphere.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/02/1031/05/11

Funding

  • NERC (Natural Environment Research Council): £25,520.42

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lidar
canopy
carbon
carbon cycle
deforestation
land cover
cost
satellite mission
speckle
aboveground biomass
biosphere
vertical profile
land use change
land use
appropriate technology
atmosphere
carbon budget
sampling
carbon emission
forestry