News Sci/Tech Vegetation Boosted by Space Data: A Climate Game-Changer
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Vegetation Boosted by Space Data: A Climate Game-Changer

When it comes to predicting our future climate, one often overlooked hero plays a crucial role: vegetation. Plants and trees, silently yet powerfully, influence both the energy cycle and the water cycle. But their impact goes beyond that. It's estimated that vegetation annually absorbs over three billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere—equivalent to a third of greenhouse-gas emissions caused by human activity.

ESA's Climate Change Initiative: A New Satellite Dataset

Climate modellers rely on satellite data to assess the health and growth of global vegetation. Enter ESA's Climate Change Initiative (CCI), which has just released a groundbreaking dataset. This treasure trove includes information on two critical variables:

  • Leaf Area Index (LAI): Describes the amount of leaf area in the canopy.
  • Fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (FAPAR): Measures how much solar radiation leaves absorb.

These variables are essential for understanding vegetation patterns and growth rates. The dataset spans the years 2000–2020 and combines observations from various sensors, including those aboard the French SPOT satellites and ESA's Proba-V mission. With a 1 km grid resolution over five-day intervals, it's a goldmine for global carbon and climate models.

Quality Assurance Matters

Climate modellers demand precision. The dataset provides not only valuable data but also full uncertainty estimates—a measure of confidence. Additionally, it undergoes rigorous validation using global in-situ measurements. Dr. Christiaan van der Tol, science leader of the Climate Change Initiative Vegetation Parameters project, emphasizes the importance of accurate input data for forward-looking projections.

From Finland to South Africa: A Transect of Insights

This initial dataset covers a north–south transect from Finland to South Africa. It serves as a stepping stone for users, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the data before transitioning to a global product—the project's next ambitious phase.

The images below illustrate the difference in FAPAR over western Europe between July 2010 and July 2018, as well as the variation in LAI over part of central Africa during the same period.

FAPAR in western Europe July 2010 and July 2018 LAI in central Africa July 2010 and July 2018

As we delve deeper into understanding our planet's intricate climate puzzle, ESA's vegetation dataset emerges as a powerful ally—one that bridges the gap between data and informed decisions.

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