Biodiversity News, August 2, 2006: NASA, Lasers, and Woodpeckers

1826 watercolor by John James Audubon

Lasers, dark mysterious wilderness, extinct species ... almost sounds like a sequel in a well-known series of movies in which dinosaurs eat people. But no, this is real science!
In June a research aircraft flew over delta regions of the lower Mississippi River to track possible areas of habitat suitable for the ivory-billed woodpecker [Campephilus principalis], one of the largest and most regal members of the woodpecker family. The project is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland used NASA’s Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS) onboard the aircraft. The instrument uses lasers that send pulses of energy to the Earth's surface. Photons of light from the lasers bounce off leaves, branches and the ground and reflect back to the instrument. By analyzing these returned signals, scientists receive a direct measurement of the height of the forest's leaf covered tree tops, the ground level below and everything in between.


LVIS project researcher Ralph Dubayah, a professor in the University of Maryland's Department of Geography [said]. “Lidar technology like LVIS measures the vertical structure of the trees and ground, setting it apart from other remote-sensing systems that provide detailed horizontal information that tells us little about whether a green patch of forest is short or tall, for example. When identifying habitats, the vertical structure of the vegetation is of paramount importance to many species, including a bird like the ivory-bill.”

Thematic map showing the survey area in the White River Wildlife Reserve.
Credit: NASA.

Satellite image of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. The White River, the focus of this summer's survey, is at the left of the image.
Credit: NASA image by Robert Simmon, based on Landsat 7 data provided by the Global Land Cover Facility.
Image acquired December 23, 2001 from NASA’s Landsat 7 satellite

I picked up this story through the Birding News Feed. It was variously reported by
Sidebar: Why I hate ads on the Web. The following were all ads displayed on the various story items:
  • Woodpecker Control: Helpful links for woodpecker control.
  • Woodpecker Deterrent: The Attack Spider scares them away. Sound-activated, fast. It works!
  • Get Rid of Woodpeckers: Wide Variety Woodpecker Deterrents Affordable Woodpecker Repellents
This is why there are no Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, people: You're scaring them all away!

On a more positive note, it seems that, after I've scared them all off, I could still buy one of my very own:
  • Ivory Billed Woodpecker: Browse a huge selection now. Find exactly what you want today. [I just want one standard plumage male Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, please. Gift-wrapped.]


Hanna in Cleveland said...

That's pretty cool that NASA is using its technology that way. My little sis works for NASA and she hates that everybody thinks that all they do is space stuff. NASA is so much more than that and it's nice to see that some of their other persuits get reported on.

Xris said...

Well, I'm a space baby, as I've mentioned on at least one previous post (just not this one). I used to watch the launches from my bedroom window.

There's even a lot of great stuff NASA is doing in space. NASA's Earth Observatory is great, as one example. I just don't think shooting people up there is the best use of the money.

trey said...


That’s why I took the Google sponsored ads off my blog site. Here I am ranting about box stores and the like, and their ads kept popping up. Just didn't seem right.

Hanna in Cleveland said...

When I say space stuff, I mean getting up into space. Very interesting, lots of fun, but it really overshadows many other things they do. The stuff they do in space looking back at earth (like the woodpecker) is great.

The military stuff... I wish they didn't have but the military pays and the rest of us benifit. Many of their military programs have commercial uses and most likely will be used in commercial enterprises rather than military. We have to take some small comfort in that until this government loses its facination with war.

bev said...

Regarding the ads in the sidebars and banners. As you will no doubt have noticed, if you look up practically any insect species, you'll immediately be barraged with ads for pesticides, pest control companies, bug zapper lights and traps, etc... Web searches are practically as bad. Perhaps one good hit for a page about the life history of an insect, and another dozen for pages telling you how to kill it. The "wasp and hornet" gallery in my Pbase photos continues to get the most hits every day and almost all of my guest comments are from people wanting to know how to kill a hornet that they saw around their swimming pool It's all rather bizarre.

lisa said...

Hey I'll take a couple Ivory-bills myself...maybe I can have them stuffed with their mouths open and use them for candle holders! How ridiculous! What kind of idiot wants to get rid of woodpeckers?! They are by far the coolest birds to visit my feeders! I especially love this time of year, when the newly-fledged youngsters come out and try to figure out how to perch and eat suet at the same time-hilarious!