The world’s growing population is experiencing unprecedented changes to our climate through intensifying events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and insect infestations. It is imperative to understand the connections between natural resource management and ecosystem responses to create a sustainable future. NISAR radar data will observe the distribution of vegetation and biomass to understand changes and trends in ecosystems to better understand ecosystems’ responses to disturbance and recovery.
NISAR will determine the contribution of Earth’s most variable biomass to the global carbon budget and characterize ecosystem disturbance and impacts on biodiversity.
Landscapes are rapidly changing as forests are cut down and agricultural lands are developed. Land ecosystems, which act as carbon sources and sinks, must be studied now for us to understand how they may interact with climate as atmospheric CO2 increases.
Monitoring Ecosystems for Managing Natural Resources
The world's growing population is experiencing unprecedented changes to our climate through intensifying events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and insect infestations, with their related health effects. These impacts are putting pressure on our landscapes and ecosystems that generate food, fiber, energy and living spaces for a growing global population. It is imperative to understand the connections between natural resource management and ecosystem responses to create a sustainable future.
Tracking Global Carbon to Improve Climate Change Projections
NISAR measurements will have a major impact on projections of climate change. Ecosystems both emit carbon to the atmosphere (carbon sources) and remove it (carbon sinks). Living material (biomass) stores carbon, playing an important role in the carbon cycle. Characterizing biomass globally will refine estimates of the spatial distribution of carbon. Living material can be removed from an ecosystem abruptly or gradually by human or natural causes such as forest fires, logging, acid rain and insect infestations. Recovery or the reestablishment of forests and woody vegetation follows these ecosystem disturbances.
It is not known how Earth's land biomass is changing and interacting with the varying climate. NISAR will be ideally suited to measure woody plants and forests, which make up 80% of land biomass. NISAR's global, detailed map of above-ground woody biomass density will halve the uncertainty of estimated carbon emissions from land use change.
Understanding the Consequences of Land Use and Climate Change on Ecosystems
Global wetlands and permafrost, which cover nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere land surface, can have major impacts on and responses to climate change. Wetlands are one of the most significant natural sources of increased atmospheric methane. When permafrost melts, it releases carbon dioxide and methane, creating further feedback of warming and melting.
Humans have dramatically altered the land ecosystems by converting old-growth and carbon-rich forests into permanent croplands and urban landscapes and causing extensive losses of wetlands (up to 50%). These disturbances are also changing the climate by increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which increases the probability of natural disturbances such as fire, droughts, hurricanes and storms.
Alpine and mangrove ecosystems respond to change in climate quickly, serving as climatic indicators. Mangroves are a critical coastal ecosystem under severe threat from climate change. Similarly, shifts in vegetation are occurring, especially in high-altitude regions where alpine tree lines are advancing. These changes have important implications for the global carbon cycle and its climate feedback, yet there remains large uncertainty in the global extent and magnitude of the changes. NISAR will quantify biomass and track ecosystem changes.