Technology to account for all trees on Earth

Businessmen with plants

Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, are teaming up with international scientists to map all trees on Earth and thereby establish the basis for measuring planetary carbon storage.

The mapping of these unpublished data required more than a year of preparation. The team integrated a powerful calculation algorithm on one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, the University of Illinois’ Blue Waters. They thus formed a model capable of recognizing individual trees, or small groups of trees, over multiple terrains. To do this, scientists manually surveyed 90,000 individual trees using high-resolution satellite images from West Africa. This region has the advantage of having arid and semi-arid zones where many isolated trees grow; these have never been included in previous assessments. In addition to locating and counting the trees; the program measures the diameter, coverage, and density of their crowns, i.e. from the top of the trunk to all the branches. As a result, they can analyze variations in these data according to land use and climate.