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Biological Diversity Program


The NASA Biodiversity Research Program uses NASA observations and models to improve our understanding of biodiversity within the Earth system and its effects on the Earth system.

Biodiversity is the variety of life as manifest at all levels including genes, species, and ecosystems. Life is a fundamental component of the Earth system. In order to understand life’s role in Earth system science, one must study its composition. Thus, the NASA Earth Science program includes a research element on biodiversity. Our approach to biodiversity science centers broadly on two of its key aspects: pattern and process. First, NASA explores patterns of biodiversity extant upon the land and within the water using observations from satellites, airborne and seaborne platforms, and in situ surveys. Our tools are ideally suited for detecting many of biodiversity’s patterns, especially at the ecosystem level, but also at finer levels such as species and communities. Biodiversity pattern often follows process. Thus, NASA also seeks to understand the geophysical and ecological processes that result in the patterns of biodiversity our observations detect. Understanding these processes takes observations, although some of these observations may be at finer spatial scales than available from NASA satellites. It also requires models; essentially simplified representations of our knowledge of how certain systems work that in turn allow us to test the validity of this knowledge. Process-oriented research offers the additional benefit of connecting the Biodiversity program to the activities of other NASA Earth Science programs, such as efforts to track the biogeochemical cycling of important elements like carbon or studies of the water cycle.

NASA Science Questions Primarily Addressed in Biodiversity Research:

  • What drives the diversity of life on Earth?
  • How is this biodiversity changing and why?
  • What are the effects of biodiversity on other components of the Earth system?
  • Why do organisms and ecosystems exist where they do?

Most Relevant of NASA’s 24 Earth Science Questions to the Biodiversity Research Program:

  • How are global ecosystems changing?
  • What changes are occurring in global land cover and land use, and what are their causes?
  • How do ecosystems, land cover and biogeochemical cycles respond to and affect global environmental change?
  • What are the consequences of land cover and land use change for human societies and the sustainability of ecosystems?
  • What are the consequences of climate change and increased human activities for coastal regions?
  • How will carbon cycle dynamics and terrestrial and marine ecosystems change in the future?

Annual Budget for Research Program:

  • ~ $2 million

Major Activities—Types of Research Solicited:

  • Characterization of the distribution and abundance of elements of biodiversity (populations, species, and/or communities)
  • Biodiversity and disturbance
  • Ecological structure and biodiversity
  • Physiology and functional types and biodiversity

Major Partnerships and Collaborations:

  • NASA Applied Sciences Research Program on Ecological Forecasting
  • Ecosystems Interagency Working Group of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program
  • Subcommittee on Ecological Systems of the National Science and Technology Council
  • Biodiversity Societal Benefit Area of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

Some Recent Activities:

Point of Contact for NASA Biodiversity:

  • Woody Turner
    Program Scientist, Biological Diversity
    NASA Headquarters
    Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate
    Mail Suite 3H78
    300 E Street, SW
    Washington, DC 20546-0001
    Telephone: +1 202 358-1662
    Facsimile:1 202 358-2770


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