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Scientists look to satellite data to help save rain forests

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In an effort to combat global warming, some world leaders are willing to pay countries to preserve tropical rain forests.

Scientists look to satellite data to help save rain forests

In an effort to combat global warming, some world leaders are willing to pay countries to preserve tropical rain forests.

The approach is called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and puts cash in the hands of poor countries that are willing to adopt conservation methods and reduce deforestation.

Environmentalists say deforestation contributes 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change.

A new project led by the European Space Agency (ESA) is designed to help international conservation groups track which countries are truly saving the forests.

The Biomass mission will provide a global picture from 2020 to 2025 showing carbon levels in the forests. Using a remote sensing device called a Polarmetric InSar, the mission will use radio waves from space to measure forest height down to 200 meters and provide a 3-D image of the world’s ecosystems.

Shaun Quegan, biomass principal investigator with the University of Sheffield, says the mission will also use radio waves to calculate forest biomass and tomographic radar to measure forest layers.

"This will give us a lot of information about forest structure and also about the changes in forests," said Quegan.

One challenge the REDD project should overcome is getting solid data out of thick, dense forests.

"There is this big gap in the tropics that none of the sensors can get into," he said. "That is where most of the carbon is, where the biggest uncertainty is and where there the most concern is over the loss of forests,” he said.

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