Source: Walter Chomentowski, Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services, Michigan State University

Scientists at Michigan State University’s Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services – or GOES – have a treasure trove of resources many of their peers would envy.

Funded by NASA, these scientists rely on more than three decades of accumulated data for their research in tropical deforestation, forest regeneration and global climate change.

The team of GOES scientists has analyzed remotely sensed data on land cover change in the tropics since 1972, and reaffirmed that the global carbon cycle – which plays an important role in climate change – is negatively affected by changes in tropical forests.

Carbon – the building block of life – is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and wood, and from the decay of plant and animal materials and re-enters the life cycle as trees draw upon carbon dioxide to grow and as the oceans absorb it.

“Most recent measurements show that the tropical forest depletes at an average rate of 19,900 square kilometers, or 7,683 miles, per year,” said Eraldo Matricardi, a doctoral student working on the project.

That depletion rate translates to a loss of 60 percent of the tropical forest within the last few decades.

“What is new is that we can determine exactly where the changes are occurring within the tropics and the reasons why they occur,” said team member Walter Chomentowski, who is also a research associate with GOES. “There are more available remotely sensed satellite data now and more processing capability to determine what exact changes there are.”

The team also is developing a set of tools to measure, monitor and manage carbon reduction projects in Michigan and abroad.

“We hope to contribute to efforts that minimize climate-change effects by supporting the measurement needs of carbon reduction projects,” said Jay Samek, research scientist and team member.

The earth’s tropics, including the Brazilian Amazon and vast tracts of forests in Indonesia, are important because they hold the most carbon per unit area in vegetation. Brazil has about one-third of the world’s remaining rain forests.

GOES has acquired massive amounts of remotely sensed satellite data for the tropics and globally. These data come primarily from NASA’s Landsat program, a series of polar-orbiter satellites.

Data in the GOES bank – stored in large chunks or “scenes” of images that measure 180-by-180 kilometers, or 112-by-112 miles, each – are distributed worldwide and are used for a variety of applications. Users range from local Michigan schools to scientists, educators, government departments, nongovernmental organizations and private companies across the globe.

In addition to tropical deforestation research and applications of technologies to support carbon- reduction projects, GOES has developed an online system to extend the distribution of NASA Landsat data to users. Called the Tropical Rain Forest Information Center (TRFIC), it is a member of NASA’s Federation of Earth Science Information Partners.

GOES distributes free global Landsat data from the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s via the Internet.

The GOES archive houses more than 80,000 scenes or approximately 100 terabytes (one terabyte equals 1,024 gigabytes) of digital data, according to Samek.

“We distribute a large portion of our data online free to the global community of users,” Samek said. “Other data in our archive are available to users for a small fee which offsets the cost of fulfilling the user request.”

More information on MSU Global Observatory for Ecosystem Services can be obtained from their Web site at