NASA photographs Ecuadorian volcanoes and mangroves

20 de marzo de 2013 - 06:46

The first impression of the airplane bearing NASA’s logo parked at the Guayaquil airport is that it is very small. But it holds inside one the most sophisticated radar imaging systems ever built to study the Earth’s cortex.

The jet, a Gulfstream 502, has been based in Guayaquil since March 12 in between flights to capture images of Ecuador’s volcanoes and mangrove forests.

The radar on the plane’s belly sends out a microwave signal that rebounds off the ground far below. The radar registers changes to the Earth’s surface—down to the millimeter.

Sunlight is not necessary for this plane to create 3D images by polarization.
The name of the scientific mission is NASA/JPL’s UAVSAR. It’s costing $600,000, and is financed by two divisions of NASA under the command of geophysicist Paul Lundgren (the volcanologist) and geodesic expert Marc Simard (the mangrove investigator).

The aerial shots of the Ecuadorian coast, Andes, Amazon forest and Galápagos create images of volcanic zones to determine the state of the Earth’s cortex. They will also establish the shape of Ecuador’s coastal mangrove forests, and measuring the quantity of plants and their carbon intake capacity.

However, Naiara Pinto, a PhD in ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Texas says that the high precision of the images may make other studies of the data possible.

The images will be sent to a NASA lab in Pasadena, California, where models will be created and sent to the data storage facility in Alaska. Eventually—in three or four months Pinto estimates—they’ll make their way onto the NASA UAVSAR website and be available to the general public.

The 30-day project will capture images from Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

This is the first investigation of this sort that NASA has conducted in Ecuador. 

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