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Where's the Carbon?

Carnegie-Stanford team uses airborne laser scanner to map absorption of CO2.

Courtesy Carnegie Airborne Observatory/Carnegie Institution

WHAT CAN YOU ACCOMPLISH from a flying laboratory with super-computing facilities? One stunning example emanating from a team based at Stanford is a high-resolution map of the carbon geography of Peru, illustrating the tension between economic growth and forest conservation in developing nations. The Carnegie Institution for Science, whose departments of global ecology and plant biology are stationed on campus, deployed an aircraft with a laser scanner that can survey 500,000 reference points per second.

Led by Carnegie scientist Greg Asner, who teaches Stanford Online's forest monitoring course, the researchers included Dana Chadwick, a PhD student in the department of environmental earth system science (shown at right, in foreground).

Dana Chadwick
Gregory Asner

On the map, the darker the blue, the lower the carbon stocks (absorption of carbon dioxide); the area on the left reflects Peru's coastal and valley terrain west of the Andes. The blue infiltrating the carbon-dense orange-to-red regions on the other side of the country, explains Asner, is a guide to how industries such as mining, timber harvesting and oil palm plantation are contributing to tropical deforestation.

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