Unveiling NexGen CAO for Discovery, Conservation, Action
1st May 2015

Unveiling NexGen CAO for Discovery, Conservation, Action

CAO News
Climate Change
United States
Imaging Spectroscopy
Laser Scanning

Today my team and I launch the third generation Carnegie Airborne Observatory, or CAO-3. It feels a world away from the first CAO launched in 2006, or CAO-2 from eons ago…in 2011. But things are very different this time.

The Right Stuff

We have a newly expanded team of scientists, aircraft and sensor engineers, and pilots, who collectively make up the Dream Team we’ve been needing to assemble for maximum impact.  I’ve worked with high performers in military, civilian, government, non-government, State, academic, and conservation organizations, and I’ve never had a team better than the one assembled now for CAO-3. It seems that we can do anything together. And we already have. Read on…

Photons Meet Leather

CAO-3 is a completely tricked out airplane and airborne laboratory. Titanium, carbon fiber, cryocoolers, neodymium, leather, and lasers don’t begin to describe what we’ve assembled. CAO-3 is a mix of hi-tech mapping instrumentation and aviation bling. The plane is a Dornier 228, built and refit from the airframe and wiring up to its metallic finish, slick electronics, and laser-engraved image of Andrew Carnegie, who founded our institution in 1902. Our ship’s colors — silver, green and black — put us somewhere between Avatar and Batman.

The comfort, capability and global range of CAO-3 are matched only by our new and improved mapping system. Two ultra-sensitive imaging spectrometers can measure Earth in up to 700 spectral bands, most of which are invisible to yours eyes. Our dual-laser waveform LiDAR scanner gives 3-D detail to our spectral data. Described as “laser-guided spectroscopy” in our recent writings, the system produces maps that tell us more about an ecosystem in a single airborne overpass than what might be achieved in a lifetime of work on the ground. Our improved onboard computing, software integration, data capture, navigation, and ergonomics would make any Silicon Valley tech nerd drool. Flight operations are streamlined and can be rapidly mobilized from California to anywhere on Earth.

Everything has come together for CAO-3, and not too soon. We have huge regions of the planet to explore. We have conservation actions to support, and environmental problems to report. We have governments to engage, and policy-decisions to enlighten. And we have enormous challenges to address, like drought in California, deforestation in the Amazon, and agriculture-forest tensions in Borneo.

Hello World

To mark the launch of CAO-3, today we also launch this new modern website and a social media strategy to match. The website focuses on you. We want to reach you, whether you are a scientist, conservationist, policy maker, citizen, friend or family member. We will rely on our image and video Gallery, with spectacular CAO visuals, that speak for themselves (and we narrate them with you in mind). This gallery will grow rapidly since we have hundreds of terabytes of recent and forthcoming information to share. We will also focus on reporting our results in a more visual way, via our improved and rapidly expanding Publications page. We want you to understand our findings, whether they touch on pure ecological discovery, conservation challenges, or resource policy initiatives like climate change mitigation. We want to inspire you through high-end, hard-science data visualization. We think the new look, feel, and content of the website will help us to achieve this goal, so we plan to continually update it with new imagery, videos, publications, data, and more.

Thank You Thank You

Underpinning our effort and the new CAO-3 capability is our Institution, its Trustees and our unique benefactors. I thank my CAO teammates, postdoctoral scientists, and student scientists listed on the website, our director and our president, and our administration and support staff. A very special thank you goes to Carnegie Trustee William R. Hearst III for making our new aircraft possible. Our thanks also go to the forward-thinking folks at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Avatar Alliance Foundation, Andrew Mellon Foundation, as well as Len Baker and Mary Anne Nyburg Baker. Without support, we are not going to be up in the air, helping science, conservation and resource policy work at the large geographic scales required to sustain ourselves and our shrinking planet.  Our donors are critically important!

CAO-3 is a great ship, ready to set sail for the skies over California, Ecuador, Borneo and other upcoming theatres of operation. Watch for the silvery, green and black bird in the sky.

Greg Asner