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From a New Hope to a Quantum Leap

MARYLAND – “GEDI will be a quantum leap forward for forest monitoring,” said Sean Healey, a research ecologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research StationThe Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI (pronounced “Jedi”), is a full-waveform LiDAR instrument built to measure trees from space.  It is the first spaceborne laser to measure the structure of Earth’s tropical and temperate forests in high resolution and three dimensions.

Launched in December 2018 this full-waveform LiDAR instrument, built by NASA and the University of Maryland, successfully installed itself on the International Space Station on December 14. GEDI will spend two years on the ISS using eight laser beams to measure every leaf, branch, tree trunk, and shrub between 52°S and 52°N – the area covered by the ISS ground track – in 25 m footprints letting scientists know how much carbon is stored in the forests around the world.

Working as a unit within the larger GEDI team, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Sean Healey and Statistician Paul Patterson will help analyze the data produced by GEDI. For this project, Sean will specialize in the remote sensing aspects, while Paul will focus on producing statistical based estimates from the data.

“It’s been a great learning experience,” said Patterson. “I’m learning new statistical techniques and working with a diverse group of people from around the world.”

Both Healey and Patterson work for the Forest Inventory and Analysis, which maintains a huge field network with about 300,000 plots within the United States. GEDI will measure almost 1 billion 25 m footprints over the United States, which is four orders of magnitude more than FIA’s current network; a quantum leap for forest monitoring indeed.


Grappling the GEDI instrument in the Dragon trunk at ISS. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Removal of GEDI from the trunk at local sunrise. Photo courtesy of NASA.