Biological diversity, or biodiversity, refers to the variety of all life on Earth—from genes to species, ecosystems, and biomes. Research has shown that global biodiversity has been on the decline. NASA studies how and why global biodiversity is changing, and the effects of these changes on and interactions with Earth’s interrelated systems. Sensors on a suite of NASA satellites, combined with airborne platforms, in situ observations and models, provide measurements of biodiversity and environmental variables such as vegetation productivity, biomass, habitat suitability, land cover and land use change,
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Vegetation is a primary component of terrestrial biodiversity, playing a critical role in the global energy budget and in many of our biogeochemical cycles. Maintaining species richness ensures the productivity and stability of ecosystem processes, making it critical to monitor vegetation health. Measurements are collected from various remotely sensed parameters, including vegetation indices (or greenness), leaf area, primary productivity, transpiration, canopy height, phenology, and biomass.
Global biodiversity is threatened by climate change, human interactions with the environment, such as urbanization and habitat conversion, and other factors. Understanding the distribution and movement of species is therefore important for maintaining biodiversity and for protecting species. A combination of both remotely sensed Earth observation data, ground based observations, and model data can be used to determine individual species’ patterns of movement. These observations can help determine the number of species in a defined area (species richness) or assessments of terrestrial biomes in their contemporary, human-altered form (anthropogenic biomes).
There are many causes of biodiversity loss, including deforestation, agricultural development, urbanization, pollution, and climate change. Understanding the ways in which humans are interacting with the environment, and how resulting changes impact Earth’s systems is important to preserving biodiversity.
Habitat suitability serves as a proxy for species distribution. Models are used to estimate the potentiality of a habitat for a given species by integrating environmental variables, such as land cover type, temperature, precipitation, soil moisture, snow cover and topography, with species presence data.
Remote sensing data can be used to monitor the state of aquatic ecosystems from space. From algal bloom development to animal migrations, measurements such as chlorophyll concentration, sea surface temperature and salinity are useful for determining habitat suitability. These data can also be incorporated into ocean circulation models and biogeochemistry models to help forecast animal movement.
NASA provides data from a variety of sources including satellites, airborne campaigns, field campaigns, in situ instruments and model outputs. The Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) offers a wide variety of freely and openly available data that can be used to evaluate environmental variables affecting biodiversity.
Dr. Sparkle Malone uses Earth observation data to explore how a changing climate impacts ecosystem structure and function.
Dr. David Lagomasino uses Earth observing data to study coastal mangrove forests, some of Earth’s most biologically diverse environments.
Dr. Eric Bullock uses Earth observation data to explore the consequences of land use and land cover change as a result of deforestation in the Amazon.
Dr. Faisal Hossain uses NASA Earth observing data to improve water management and accelerate economic development in Asia and Southeast Asia.
Dr. Eric Sproles uses Earth-observing data as part of his studies into water’s eco-social effects.
Dr. Monica Papeş uses NASA Earth science data combined with ecological niche modeling techniques and GIS to study the geographic distributions of plant and animal species. Dr. Priscila Kienteca Lange uses NASA ocean biology data to study the biomass and distribution of phytoplankton. Dr. Bridget Seegers develops new ways to study water quality and track harmful algal blooms. Dr. Michael Dietz integrates remote sensing data with environmental models to improve ecological forecasting. Dr. Pierre Kirstetter uses radar and satellite remote sensing to improve our understanding of precipitation and flooding.