Topic 2f - Land: Applications

In this video, Dr Kirsten Barrett explains the role of land surface vegetation in the carbon cycle, and explores the advantages of using satellites to quantify land use changes. Dr Mathias Disney also introduces some other highly important properties of the land surface that we can now assess fairly routinely from Space, such as albedo, net primary productivity and the location of wildfires across the planet.

Changes occurring on the land surface have important impacts in relation to the Earth’s ‘radiation balance’, the carbon cycle, and the climate, for example in terms of the amount of sunlight reflected back out to space, and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) added to and removed from the atmosphere. Global urbanisation/industrialisation, deforestation, and forest degradation serve variously to add CO2 to the atmosphere and generally reduce the Earth’s ability to sequester and store CO2 from the atmosphere through the growth of vegetation. However, forest regrowth and the abandonment of agricultural land and its return to a more natural state can act to increase the system’s ability to sequester atmospheric CO2 in these particular regions.

In order to expand our understanding of climate change, its causes, effects and feedbacks, it is vital that we quantify and monitor the state of the land surface and its vegetation. Fundamentally, we need to know where carbon is being absorbed and stored in plants (and soils) across the planet, and how this is changing over time. In relation to vegetation, Earth observation provides an important way of assessing such changes at the local, regional and global scale. It allows us to quantify how the land surface vegetation and properties such as albedo are changing over time, providing vital additional data that can be used in conjunction with ground based measurements that provide highly detailed measurements at individual locations.

Featured Educators:

  • Dr Mathias Disney

Other Featured Experts:

  • Dr Kirsten Barrett

View featured satellites on the satellite tracking app

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

Optional Further Reading