The Žofín forest, located in Novohradské Hory in the Czech Republic near the border with Austria, was declared a protected area in 1838. Its oldest trees, mostly giant spruces and firs, are up to 400 years old. The primeval forest has developed more or less without any human intervention for nearly 180 years and presents an ideal site for scientists who want to study the life cycle of plants.
NASA has chosen to scan the Žofín forest as part of their global project called GEDI, or the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation. The project aims to produce the first high-resolution laser ranging observations of the 3D structure of the Earth, which will enable scientists to better understand how the Earth behaves as a system.
The idea is to use a highly detailed 3D laser scan of the forest as ground truth to calibrate the satellite sensor system. Casey Koshwin is an expert from Brown University, who is cooperating on the research with NASA:
“The other reason why we chose the Žofín forest is to work with Czech scientists, who have been carrying out research here. They have data from laser scanning on the ground that provides very detailed measurements of the tree structures. It is useful for us to compare with data that we collect from the helicopter today.
“They have a lot of really novel methods using lasers to study tree structure. The software that they are developing is very unique: to be able to take this so-called point cloud with millions of laser measurements and to break it up into individual trees that allows us to measure the biomass of individual trees – that’s a very cutting edge thing that has been done here.”
On the global level, GEDI aims to produce the first high-resolution observations of the Earth’s surface structure, which will be useful for weather forecasting, forest management, and monitoring of glaciers and snow layers in high altitudes.