In April 2016, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory team mapped forests throughout the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah. In collaboration with the Sabah Forestry Department and multiple non-government partners, the CAO team used its airborne high-resolution laser scanning to discover 50 trees over the height of 90 meters. These 50 trees exceed the height of the previously reported tallest tropical tree of 89.5 meters. The team’s very tallest tree was discovered at a height of 94.1 meters, exceeding the height of the Statue of Liberty, as widely reported in the news, and is located in Sabah’s Danum Valley.
DISCOVERY. CONSERVATION. ACTION.
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Ecology from the air
See our Principal Investigator Greg Asner discuss what our forests are really made up of at TED Conference.
Global Press Coverage
Carnegie Airborne Observatory has been featured in leading newspapers and media all over the world.
Our mission is to make scientific discoveries, support conservation, and galvanize action to protect the environment at large geographic scales. Through our advanced Earth imaging technology, novel data analytics, and technical training of next generation scientists, we reach our mission goals all over the world.
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Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System (AToMS)
The most recent and technologically advanced instrument and computing package for CAO is called AToMS, or Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System.
AToMS has three integrated sensing technologies: (i) High Fidelity Visible-Shortwave Infrared (VSWIR) Imaging Spectrometer; (ii) Dual-laser, waveform Light Detection and Ranging (wLiDAR) Scanner, and (iii) High-resolution Visible-to-Near Infrared (VNIR) Imaging Spectrometer.
AToMS is now in its third generation configuration, with advances in all sensors. It can map features on the Earth’s surface in three dimensions, including all terrestrial ecosystems and the human-built environment. AToMS can also image coral reefs and other aquatic habitats with spectral detail.
The Beta System operated from 2007-2009, providing spectral imaging through the Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) and three-dimensional imaging through a Carnegie single-laser Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Scanner. The CAO Beta System was a research test-bed for the current AToMS airborne sensor package. The Beta System operated in California and Hawaii.
The Alpha System operated from 2006-2011, and consisted of a Visible-to-Near Infrared (VNIR) Imaging Spectrometer and waveform Light Detection and Ranging (wLiDAR) Scanner. The Alpha System made major contributions to ecological science and conservation studies in California, Colombia, Hawaii, Madagascar, Panama, Perú, and South Africa.
Worldwide Media Coverage
From The New York Times, Newsweek, The Guardian and Huffington Post, through Scientific American, Nature, National Geographic and Mongabay, to Wired, USA Today, The Economist and much more, Carnegie Airborne Observatory has been featured in leading newspapers and media all over the world.
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"CAO provided a whole new perspective on the lives of animals in the rainforest canopy. We were able to trace how primates move through this complex, three-dimensional landscape exactly as they see it."− Kevin McLean, Yale University
"CAO lifted the veil on biogeochemical heterogeneity of rainforests in Costa Rica. In a single day, CAO revealed landscape patterns that would of taken a lifetime of field work to discover."− Phil Taylor, University of Colorado
"The CAO was integral in tying together ground-based knowledge of savanna ecology and community-based natural-resource management to understand drivers of woody vegetation structure in South Africa."− Jolene Fisher, University of Witwatersrand
"Development of the high fidelity VSWIR instrument with CAO has resulted in a new class of imaging spectrometer for 21st century science and application research."− Robert O. Green, NASA
"I flew with the CAO over the Amazon, reporting their research about the complex dynamic between climate change and rainforests. CAO imagery was an invaluable tool for effectively explaining this research to a general audience."− Simeon Tegel, Journalist
"We used the CAO to reveal fascinating geographic patterns of termite mounds in African savannas, and used them to predict the ecological effects of climate change."− Shaun Levick, Max Planck Institute
"The CAO was pivotal in mapping suitable habitat for rare and endangered species in tropical dry systems Hawaii."− Susan Cordell, US Forest Service
Our latest thoughts on our research, conservation and the environment
Not all forests are created equal. The massive green swaths of Peru’s Andean and Amazonian forests host a more diverse array of life than previously thought — much of which has been hidden beyond the visible spectrum of light until now.
In August 2011, I climbed onto a small twin-propeller plane, crouching down to avoid smacking my head. The plane took off from Cusco, Peru, and was soon soaring over the Amazon rainforest. From the window, I could see a vast, unbroken layer of trees, greeting the horizon in every direction. It all looked the same—but it wasn’t. That seemingly uniform stretch of jungle contained many distinctive types of forest, each with its own distinctive climate and species. To the naked eye, the boundaries between these zones are invisible. We literally can’t see the forests for the trees.