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ENVIRONMENT/ Forests are specialized in capturing carbon dioxide

New studies by NASA show that tree are actually taller, on average, than was previously thought. However, more research is still necessary to determine strategies for forest conservation.

(Fotolia) (Fotolia)

The Icesat satellite (Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite), launched by NASA in 2002 in an Earth observation project, has provided valuable data about our planet and, in particular, our forest. A team of specialists at the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) of the University of Maryland and the Wood Hole Research Center has been processing this data since 2005, merging it with the data collected by other environmental satellites. The result was the creation of the first global map of forest areas, now freely available online, with the surprise that the plants have an average height that is greater than previously thought and this, therefore, increases the amount of carbon dioxide that they can absorb. The news deserves some further analysis, though without getting into a detailed examination.

A first consideration must be given to global change and the effects of human activities. When faced with these results, it is often shown how man is changing the Earth's environment and how the estimates of those effects necessitate global approaches. The influence of carbon dioxide on the growth of trees is an increasingly common subject of research, with hundreds of studies done in recent years in the field of forestry alone, according to the SCOPUS database. From this, we also know that, on a global level, forests, through the accumulation of organic matter, are able to absorb 37% of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.

In Italy, other authors have shown that, through the creation of forest plantings, 3.4 tons of carbon could be “blocked” per year. These numbers and scientific evidence make us realize how important a forest policy at a national level that also addresses carbon sequestration and the combating of global change is. It is also inordinately important to encourage an increase in "green lungs" through specialized plantations that can make use of improved genotypes (e.g. the poplar selections studied in the FACE project).

A second consideration should be given to so-called Remote Sensing technologies, used in the studies in question. This technology, which can use radar and laser probes (LIDAR), carried by air or by satellite, provides a framework of information that can be used both in terms of a scientific perspective (for the monitoring of various terrestrial environments) and in terms of its technical application. Globally, this technology was used in 2008 to estimate the amount of carbon stored in Indonesian peatland. From the measurements made with radar probes, it was possible to estimate that this quantity was equal to 55 Gt (billion tons). This was an important acquisition, which led to greater public attention on the conservation of forest ecosystems that are not adequately understood.