Researching Global Warming with the Vegetation Canopy LIDAR Mission

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Since the beginning of time, human activities that have been altering the Earth and its atmosphere have caused the earth to warm by about one degree Fahrenheit since the late 19th century. Whether these activities were essential or superfluous, the effects on and surrounding Earth are multitudinous. For example, a warmer Earth could lead to the spread of diseases, melting polar ice caps, receding glaciers, and a change in precipitation patterns (Gay 21). Recently, scientists have concluded that this shift of climate due to the buildup of greenhouse gases, in part, might be accredited to the popular practice of deforestation. Because human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere, scientists have developed laser-based sensors to map the structure of vegetation in the world's forests. Some naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone are released into the atmosphere through the normal methods of burning fuel and transporting coal (McCuen 15). Certain human activities add to the levels of these naturally occurring gases. Greenhouse gases that are not naturally occurring are called chlorofluorocarbon, hydroflurocarbons, and perfluorocarbons. These are generated by industrial processes ("Global Warming" 1). Scientists believe that deforestation is a major contributor acting to increase or decrease carbon into the atmosphere, in turn, potentially accelerating or inhibiting global warming. To date, scientists can only postulate how much carbon dioxide is being emitted into the air from the cutting down of forests. Therefore, scientists have developed a laser-based sensor to determine this mystery. Ground based LIDAR systems were int... ... middle of paper ... ...ice sheets. This mission will produce results with a vertical resolution of just four inches. A comparison of this new data over several years will enable scientists to calculate the amount of ice that has been lost due to global warming and has contributed to a rise in sea levels. In the year 2003, scientists are planning to implement laser-based sensors on a mission to measure the chemical composition and structure of clouds to improve climate forecasts (Roach 2). These exciting and innovative missions will deliver their first science results in a little over three years. Not only are these exciting and innovative missions capable of producing fast results, but also they are cost-effective for NASA's budget. These missions will provide the answers to "emerging research questions that will further expand the scientific knowledge of the Earth" (Isbell 1).

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