Space mission to measure biomass step closer to lift-off

A mission to measure the Earth’s biomass is closer to launch after a contract to build its necessary technology was agreed.
The BIOMASS system will use a highly advanced radar system to create a 3D map of the world’s forests to better understand the carbon cycle. (Find out more about Biomass with resident diarist Peter Turner)

Professor Shaun Quegan, who is leading the mission, said: “This mission will give us unprecedented insight into the structure of forests across the world and how changes in forests, both losses from deforestation and gains due to regrowth and reforestation, are affecting the amount of carbon dioxide going into our atmosphere.” The mission, due to launch in 2021, will be the seventh mission of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Earth Explorer programme. Currently, most biomass estimates are taken using ground based measurements. However these are scarce and so give wildly varying projections of climate change.

Professor Quegan said: “Understanding how the amount of living material – biomass – in our global forests changes over time is necessary for improving present and future assessments of the global carbon cycle, and therefore our climate.”

Space mission to measure biomass step closer to lift-off 1

BIOMASS will use a 70cm wavelength radar sensor to probe both the forests’ height and how much wood they contain at a scale of 200m. It will also provide information on ice-sheet motion, the Earth’s upper atmosphere and subsurface geology in arid regions.

Professor Quegan will work with the ESA, Airbus and the BIOMASS Mission Advisory Group to calibrate radar measurements to not be affected by the ionosphere. They will also investigate how to combine different radar modes with ground data and other satellites’ data to calculate biomass estimates.

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