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NASA Terrestrial Ecology research addresses Earth's carbon cycle and ecosystems using space-based observations. The focus is on land-based ecosystems, changes in their structure and functioning, and their roles in supporting human life and maintaining planet Earth's habitability.

The goal of NASA's Terrestrial Ecology research is to improve understanding of the structure and function of global terrestrial ecosystems, their interactions with the atmosphere and hydrosphere, and their role in the cycling of the major biogeochemical elements and water.

This program of research addresses variability in terrestrial ecosystems, how terrestrial ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles respond to and affect global environmental change (including changes in biodiversity), and future changes in carbon-cycle dynamics and terrestrial ecosystems. The research approach combines:

  • use of remote sensing to observe terrestrial ecosystems and their responses;
  • field campaigns and related process studies to elucidate ecosystem function; and
  • ecosystem and biogeochemical cycle modeling to analyze and predict responses.

Research to establish a theoretical basis for measuring Earth surface properties using reflected, emitted, and scattered electromagnetic radiation and to develop the methodologies and technical approaches to analyze and interpret such measurements – especially in support of new measurement capabilities and satellite missions – is an important component of the Terrestrial Ecology program.

NASA Science Questions Primarily Addressed in Terrestrial Ecology Research:
  • How are global ecosystems changing?
  • How do ecosystems, land cover and biogeochemical cycles respond to and affect global environmental change?
  • How will carbon cycle dynamics and terrestrial and marine ecosystems change in the future?
  • What are the consequences of land cover and land use change for human societies and the sustainability of ecosystems?

Annual Budget for Terrestrial Ecology Research & Analysis: ~ $15 million

Recent Reviews and Advice.

Visiting Committee Reviewed NASA Earth Science Division in December 2007

  • Noted there is a need for a compelling new vision to motivate and justify Earth Science (as Earth System Science did in the past 2 decades)
  • Recommended NASA prepare ideas for a new initiative that could be ready to implement by a new Presidential Administration
  • Noted that NASA’s Earth Science Division is seriously understaffed for the work it is doing and identified a few critical areas

NASA Advisory Council’s Earth Science Subcommittee last met in January 2008

  • Recommended a study as to why Earth Science missions cost so much more than Space Science missions
  • Recommended studies of DESDynI and ICESat-II mission configurations to address incompatibilities
  • Recommended steps be taken to reduce the time to implement new research awards