Airborne sensing, laser scans shed light on the Amazon

May 19, 2021
An airborne lidar technique can map gaps in the Amazon rainforest, helping researchers to identify factors contributing to tree mortality.

As tree mortality increases throughout the Amazon, researchers in Brazil are working to more accurately assess and better understand carbon budgets, climate change effects, and other factors in the world’s largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforest.

According to a study, published in Scientific Reports, tree mortality can be attributed to “greater climate variability and feedbacks from faster growth and mortality. This has effectively shortened tree life cycles."

Led by Ricardo DalAgnol, an environmental engineer and researcher in the Earth Observation and Geoinformatics Division of Brazils National Space Research Institute, who co-authored the study, researchers collected data via airborne lidar, using pulsed laser light to survey topography and study the structure of vegetation. For this study, lidar coverage extended to remote parts of the Amazon, “where fieldwork is very difficult and satellite images can be imprecise,” thanks to heavy cloud coverage. The data was collected over the course of more than 600 flights.

Specifically, the researchers were able to map gaps in the Amazon rainforest and identify factors that contribute to tree mortality. They found that water stress, soil fertility, and human-induced forest degradation have the most influence on gap dynamics. The spatial patterns of dynamic gaps were notably consistent with field mortality patterns,” according to the study. Past research has already pointed to the influence of climate change, namely rising temperatures and drier weather, on tree mortality in tropical forests. Reference: R. DalAgnol et al., Sci. Rep. (2021);

About the Author

Justine Murphy | Senior Editor

Justine Murphy is a multiple award-winning writer and editor with more 20 years of experience in newspaper publishing as well as public relations, marketing, and communications. For nearly 10 years, she has covered all facets of the optics and photonics industry as an editor, writer, web news anchor, and podcast host for an internationally reaching magazine publishing company. Her work has earned accolades from the New England Press Association as well as the SIIA/Jesse H. Neal Awards. She received a B.A. from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

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