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  • Technology can change our understanding of nature.

  • Take for example the case of lions.

  • For centuries, it's been said that female lions

  • do all of the hunting out in the open savanna,

  • and male lions do nothing until it's time for dinner.

  • You've heard this too, I can tell.

  • Well recently, I led an airborne mapping campaign

  • in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

  • Our colleagues put GPS tracking collars

  • on male and female lions,

  • and we mapped their hunting behavior

  • from the air.

  • The lower left shows a lion sizing up

  • a herd of impala for a kill,

  • and the right shows what I call

  • the lion viewshed.

  • That's how far the lion can see in all directions

  • until his or her view is obstructed by vegetation.

  • And what we found

  • is that male lions are not the lazy hunters

  • we thought them to be.

  • They just use a different strategy.

  • Whereas the female lions hunt

  • out in the open savanna

  • over long distances, usually during the day,

  • male lions use an ambush strategy

  • in dense vegetation, and often at night.

  • This video shows the actual hunting viewsheds

  • of male lions on the left

  • and females on the right.

  • Red and darker colors show more dense vegetation,

  • and the white are wide open spaces.

  • And this is the viewshed right literally at the eye level

  • of hunting male and female lions.

  • All of a sudden, you get a very clear understanding

  • of the very spooky conditions under which

  • male lions do their hunting.

  • I bring up this example to begin,

  • because it emphasizes how little we know about nature.

  • There's been a huge amount of work done so far

  • to try to slow down our losses of tropical forests,

  • and we are losing our forests at a rapid rate,

  • as shown in red on the slide.

  • I find it ironic that we're doing so much,

  • yet these areas are fairly unknown to science.

  • So how can we save what we don't understand?

  • Now I'm a global ecologist and an Earth explorer

  • with a background in physics and chemistry

  • and biology and a lot of other boring subjects,

  • but above all, I'm obsessed with what we don't know

  • about our planet.

  • So I created this,

  • the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, or CAO.

  • It may look like a plane with a fancy paint job,

  • but I packed it with over 1,000 kilos

  • of high-tech sensors, computers,

  • and a very motivated staff

  • of Earth scientists and pilots.

  • Two of our instruments are very unique:

  • one is called an imaging spectrometer

  • that can actually measure the chemical composition

  • of plants as we fly over them.

  • Another one is a set of lasers,

  • very high-powered lasers,

  • that fire out of the bottom of the plane,

  • sweeping across the ecosystem

  • and measuring it at nearly 500,000 times per second

  • in high-resolution 3D.

  • Here's an image of the Golden Gate Bridge

  • in San Francisco, not far from where I live.

  • Although we flew straight over this bridge,

  • we imaged it in 3D, captured its color

  • in just a few seconds.

  • But the real power of the CAO

  • is its ability to capture the actual building blocks

  • of ecosystems.

  • This is a small town in the Amazon,

  • imaged with the CAO.

  • We can slice through our data

  • and see, for example, the 3D structure

  • of the vegetation and the buildings,

  • or we can use the chemical information

  • to actually figure out how fast the plants are growing

  • as we fly over them.

  • The hottest pinks are the fastest-growing plants.

  • And we can see biodiversity in ways

  • that you never could have imagined.

  • This is what a rainforest might look like

  • as you fly over it in a hot air balloon.

  • This is how we see a rainforest,

  • in kaleidoscopic color that tells us

  • that there are many species living with one another.

  • But you have to remember that these trees

  • are literally bigger than whales,

  • and what that means is that they're impossible to understand

  • just by walking on the ground below them.

  • So our imagery is 3D, it's chemical, it's biological,

  • and this tells us not only the species

  • that are living in the canopy,

  • but it tells us a lot of information

  • about the rest of the species that occupy the rainforest.

  • Now I created the CAO

  • in order to answer questions that have proven

  • extremely challenging to answer from any other vantage point,

  • such as from the ground, or from satellite sensors.

  • I want to share three of those questions with you today.

  • The first questions is,

  • how do we manage our carbon reserves

  • in tropical forests?

  • Tropical forests contain a huge amount of carbon in the trees,

  • and we need to keep that carbon in those forests

  • if we're going to avoid any further global warming.

  • Unfortunately, global carbon emissions

  • from deforestation

  • now equals the global transportation sector.

  • That's all ships, airplanes, trains and automobiles combined.

  • So it's understandable that policy negotiators

  • have been working hard to reduce deforestation,

  • but they're doing it on landscapes

  • that are hardly known to science.

  • If you don't know where the carbon is exactly,

  • in detail, how can you know what you're losing?

  • Basically, we need a high-tech accounting system.

  • With our system, we're able to see the carbon stocks

  • of tropical forests in utter detail.

  • The red shows, obviously, closed-canopy tropical forest,

  • and then you see the cookie cutting,

  • or the cutting of the forest in yellows and greens.

  • It's like cutting a cake except this cake

  • is about whale deep.

  • And yet, we can zoom in and see the forest

  • and the trees at the same time.

  • And what's amazing is, even though we flew

  • very high above this forest,

  • later on in analysis, we can go in

  • and actually experience the treetrops,

  • leaf by leaf, branch by branch,

  • just as the other species that live in this forest

  • experience it along with the trees themselves.

  • We've been using the technology to explore

  • and to actually put out the first carbon geographies

  • in high resolution

  • in faraway places like the Amazon Basin

  • and not-so-faraway places like the United States

  • and Central America.

  • What I'm going to do is I'm going to take you on a high-resolution, first-time tour

  • of the carbon landscapes of Peru and then Panama.

  • The colors are going to be going from red to blue.

  • Red is extremely high carbon stocks,

  • your largest cathedral forests you can imagine,

  • and blue are very low carbon stocks.

  • And let me tell you, Peru alone is an amazing place,

  • totally unknown in terms of its carbon geography

  • until today.

  • We can fly to this area in northern Peru

  • and see super high carbon stocks in red,

  • and the Amazon River and floodplain

  • cutting right through it.

  • We can go to an area of utter devastation

  • caused by deforestation in blue,

  • and the virus of deforestation spreading out in orange.

  • We can also fly to the southern Andes

  • to see the tree line and see exactly how

  • the carbon geography ends

  • as we go up into the mountain system.

  • And we can go to the biggest swamp in the western Amazon.

  • It's a watery dreamworld

  • akin to Jim Cameron's "Avatar."

  • We can go to one of the smallest tropical countries,

  • Panama, and see also a huge range

  • of carbon variation,

  • from high in red to low in blue.

  • Unfortunately, most of the carbon is lost in the lowlands,

  • but what you see that's left,

  • in terms of high carbon stocks in greens and reds,

  • is the stuff that's up in the mountains.

  • One interesting exception to this

  • is right in the middle of your screen.

  • You're seeing the buffer zone around the Panama Canal.

  • That's in the reds and yellows.

  • The canal authorities are using force

  • to protect their watershed and global commerce.

  • This kind of carbon mapping

  • has transformed conservation

  • and resource policy development.

  • It's really advancing our ability to save forests

  • and to curb climate change.

  • My second question: How do we prepare for climate change

  • in a place like the Amazon rainforest?

  • Let me tell you, I spend a lot of time

  • in these places, and we're seeing the climate changing already.

  • Temperatures are increasing,

  • and what's really happening is we're getting a lot of droughts,

  • recurring droughts.

  • The 2010 mega-drought is shown here

  • with red showing an area about the size of Western Europe.

  • The Amazon was so dry in 2010

  • that even the main stem of the Amazon river itself

  • dried up partially, as you see in the photo

  • in the lower portion of the slide.

  • What we found is that in very remote areas,

  • these droughts are having a big negative impact

  • on tropical forests.

  • For example, these are all of the dead trees in red

  • that suffered mortality following the 2010 drought.

  • This area happens to be on the border

  • of Peru and Brazil,

  • totally unexplored,

  • almost totally unknown scientifically.

  • So what we think, as Earth scientists,

  • is species are going to have to migrate

  • with climate change from the east in Brazil

  • all the way west into the Andes

  • and up into the mountains

  • in order to minimize their exposure to climate change.

  • One of the problems with this is that humans

  • are taking apart the western Amazon as we speak.

  • Look at this 100-square-kilometer gash

  • in the forest created by gold miners.

  • You see the forest in green in 3D,

  • and you see the effects of gold mining

  • down below the soil surface.

  • Species have nowhere to migrate in a system like this, obviously.

  • If you haven't been to the Amazon, you should go.

  • It's an amazing experience every time,

  • no matter where you go.

  • You're going to probably see it this way, on a river.

  • But what happens is a lot of times

  • the rivers hide what's really going on

  • back in the forest itself.

  • We flew over this same river,

  • imaged the system in 3D.

  • The forest is on the left.

  • And then we can digitally remove the forest

  • and see what's going on below the canopy.

  • And in this case, we found gold mining activity,

  • all of it illegal,

  • set back away from the river's edge,

  • as you'll see in those strange pockmarks

  • coming up on your screen on the right.

  • Don't worry, we're working with the authorities

  • to deal with this and many, many other problems

  • in the region.

  • So in order to put together a conservation plan

  • for these unique, important corridors

  • like the western Amazon and the Andes Amazon corridor,

  • we have to start making

  • geographically explicit plans now.

  • How do we do that if we don't know the geography of biodiversity in the region,

  • if it's so unknown to science?

  • So what we've been doing is using

  • the laser-guided spectroscopy from the CAO

  • to map for the first time the biodiversity

  • of the Amazon rainforest.

  • Here you see actual data showing different species in different colors.

  • Reds are one type of species, blues are another,

  • and greens are yet another.

  • And when we take this together and scale up