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NASA’s Space Lasers with Dr. Scott Luthcke, Dec. 5

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation lidar will reveal the 3-D architecture of forests, as depicted in this artist’s concept. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

This post was authored by Stephanie Marcus, Science Reference Librarian in the Science, Technology, and Business Division

Scott Luthcke, a geophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, will be at the Library’s Pickford Theater on Thursday, December 5, from 11:30a.m.-12:30p.m.  His talk, “Space Lasers and Satellite Measurements: Ushering in a New Era of Spaceborne Laser Altimetry Dependent on Satellite Geodesy,” is the final program in the series for 2019.

The effects of changing climate on land and sea ice coverage; surface water hydrology; understanding the Earth’s carbon cycle and biodiversity—these are all being investigated in the missions  Luthcke participates in.  He will discuss two of the recently launched instruments, ATLAS and GEDI.

ICESat-2 (Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite), launched September 15, 2018, carrying a single instrument, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System, (ATLAS).  ATLAS has a single laser split into six beams and arranged in three pairs, to better gauge the slope of Earth’s surface. Mechanisms on board precisely time the round-trip of laser photons as they leave ATLAS, reflect off the ground and return to the receiver telescope. By matching those times with the satellite’s precise location in space, mission scientists can determine the heights of Earth’s surface. They can calculate the height of glaciers, sea ice, forests, lakes and more – including the annual height change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within the width of a No. 2 pencil!  In November 2018, NASA’s Tom Neuman spoke at the Library about ICESat-2 . You can view his talk “Monitoring the Polar Regions from Space” on the Library’s webcast page or on the YouTube channel.

NASA’s new laser instrument, the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI. Engineer Bente Eegholm’s reflection can be seen in the primary mirror of the receiver telescope. Photo by: NASA Goddard/Desiree Stover

NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI-yes, pronounced JEDI!) mission launched in December 2018. From its perch aboard the International Space Station, GEDI’s powerful lasers have been creating detailed 3D maps of Earth’s forests and topography, providing innovative and unique spaceborne observations since January 2019.

GEDI’s mission provides scientists detailed information about forest structure: How tall the forest is, how dense its branches are, and the vertical and horizontal distribution of its foliage. All of this yields crucial insights into Earth’s global carbon cycle by fostering a better understanding of how forests store carbon and what happens to that carbon when they are cut down or disturbed. Forests support numerous plant and animal species, and understanding their structure can help biologists better understand Earth’s forest habitats and biodiversity.


For inquiries about this program, contact Stephanie Marcus in the Science, Technology & Business Division at 202-707-1192 or [email protected] Individuals requiring accommodations for this event are requested to submit a request at least five business days in advance by contacting (202) 707-6362 or [email protected]

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