On today’s episode, we discuss the cutting-edge remote sensing technologies used to monitor ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs. We also listen to a few ecoacoustic recordings that are used to analyze species richness in tropical forests.
The CAO Coral Reef Challenge
Gregory P. Asner, September 2017
Coral reefs are global hotspots of biological diversity and support the livelihoods of more than a billion people worldwide. Coral reefs cover roughly 500,000 km2 of the Earth’s surface, but are sparsely distributed over more than 200 million km2 of ocean (Figure 1). Field studies currently represent less than 0.01% of coral reefs worldwide, and although local monitoring is important, it provides little understanding of the trajectory of coral reefs undergoing regional and global environmental change. Read More
KONA, Hawaii — Hawaiian lawmakers are considering a ban on some popular sunscreens to try to protect coral reefs.
Researchers found that oxybenzone, a UV filtering ingredient commonly found in lotions, harms the coral. Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen wind up in coral reef areas of the ocean every year, and scientists say that contributes to the ecosystem’s damage.
The Big Island of Hawaii’s pristine coastline is home to one of the state’s largest coral reefs, a miles-long stretch that scientists say is dying at an alarming rate.
Collaborating researchers showcased their wide-ranging technology for journalists Monday at the Hilo Air Patrol.
A tree can be infected with either of the two species of Ceratocystis fungi that causes ROD for months before symptoms of the illness — browning leaves — appear, but once symptoms do show up the tree dies within weeks. An estimated 75,000 acres of ohia forest on the Big Island have already been affected. More than 200,000 ohia trees died between 2015 and 2016, with some research estimates placing the number closer to 300,000.
A high-winged twin engine airplane glides over the forest canopy, shooting laser beams into the woodlands. But this aircraft and the lasers beaming from it are not a scene in a science fiction film or even a military training exercise. They are on a mission to find life and death within the trees scattered across the forests of the Sierra Nevada.
In April 2016, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory team mapped forests throughout the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. In collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department and multiple non-government partners, the CAO team used its airborne high-resolution laser scanning to discover 50 trees over the height of 90 meters. These 50 trees exceed the height of the previously reported tallest tropical tree of 89.5 meters. The team’s very tallest tree was discovered at a height of 94.1 meters, exceeding the height of the Statue of Liberty, as widely reported in the news, and is located in Sabah’s Danum Valley.
Not all forests are created equal. The massive green swaths of Peru’s Andean and Amazonian forests host a more diverse array of life than previously thought — much of which has been hidden beyond the visible spectrum of light until now.
In August 2011, I climbed onto a small twin-propeller plane, crouching down to avoid smacking my head. The plane took off from Cusco, Peru, and was soon soaring over the Amazon rainforest. From the window, I could see a vast, unbroken layer of trees, greeting the horizon in every direction. It all looked the same—but it wasn’t. That seemingly uniform stretch of jungle contained many distinctive types of forest, each with its own distinctive climate and species. To the naked eye, the boundaries between these zones are invisible. We literally can’t see the forests for the trees.
Sometimes for a scientist, the disconnected pieces of years of research come together in a single, “really awesome” point in time.
The CAO team has received new funding from the Rainforest Trust to co-lead a conservation science project that will directly benefit more than a million acres of tropical rainforest in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.