The Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), developed by GregAsner, is a fixed-wing aircraft that sweeps laser light across the vegetation canopy to image it in brilliant 3-D. The data can determine the location and size of each tree at a resolution of 3.5 feet (1.1 meter), a level of detail that is unprecedented. By combining field surveys with this airborne mapping and high-resolution satellite monitoring the team has been able to detail myriad ecological features of forests around the world.

As one example, Carnegie scientists with the Peruvian Ministry of Environment mapped the true extent of gold mining in the biologically diverse region of Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon. The team found that the geographic extent of mining has increased 400% from 1999 to 2012 and that the average annual rate of forest loss has tripled since the Great Recession of 2008. Until this study, thousands of small, clandestine mines that have boomed since the economic crisis have gone unmonitored.

The team is also the first to map the carbon stocks in individual countries in high-resolution, which could provide the foundation for future market-based carbon economies. The first such map was for Panama (left), the second was for Perú (right). The carbon maps also reveal the high ecological diversity in these jurisdictions providing critical input to studies of deforestation and forest degradation for conservation, land use, and enforcement purposes. Numerous other studies have been conducted using this technology.

Scientific Area: 

Explore Carnegie Science

Aerial view of red tide along Florida’s gulf coast - summer/fall 2018 by Ryan McGill, purchased form Shutterstock
February 26, 2019

Washington, DC—Strategies for limiting climate change must take into account their potential impact on water quality through nutrient overload, according to a new study from Carnegie’s Eva Sinha and Anna Michalak published by Nature Communications. Some efforts at reducing carbon emissions could actually increase the risk of water quality impairments, they found.

Rainfall and other precipitation wash nutrients from human activities like agriculture into waterways. When waterways get overloaded with nutrients, a dangerous phenomenon called eutrophication can occur, which can sometime lead to toxin-producing algal blooms or low-oxygen dead zones called hypoxia.

Subalpine forests of the Colorado Rockies are expected to be strongly affected by climate change. Photo courtesy of Lee Anderegg.
February 25, 2019

Washington, DC— On the mountain slopes of the western United States, climate can play a major role in determining which tree communities will thrive in the harshest conditions, according to new work from Carnegie’s Leander Anderegg and University of Washington’s Janneke Hille Ris Lambers.

Their findings, published in Ecology Letters, are an important step in understanding how forest growth will respond to a climate altered by human activity.

As researchers try to anticipate how climate change will affect forest ecosystems, it is crucial to understand the factors that influence how forest habitats change over time—including both environmental

Coal mine, public domain
January 29, 2019

Washington, DC—Chinese regulations on coal mining have not curbed the nation’s growing methane emissions as intended, says new research from a team led by Carnegie’s Scot Miller and Anna Michalak. Their findings are published in Nature Communications.

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which is used to generate more than 70 percent of its electricity. It also emits more methane than any other nation, and the coal sector accounts for about 33 percent of this total. This happens when underground pools of methane gas are released during the mining process.

In the atmosphere, methane acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat

SOCCR2 cover art
November 27, 2018

Washington, DC—Carnegie’s Anna Michalak was a major contributor to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Second State of the Carbon Cycle Report released last Friday, which provides a current state-of-the-science assessment of the carbon cycle in North America—including the United States, Canada, and Mexico—and  its connection to climate and society.

Over the past decade, fossil fuel emissions continued to be by far the largest North American carbon source. Urban areas in North America are the primary source of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

But land ecosystems and the ocean play a major role in removing and sequestering carbon

No content in this section.

Anna Michalak’s team combined sampling and satellite-based observations of Lake Erie with computer simulations and determined that the 2011 record-breaking algal bloom in the lake was triggered by long-term agricultural practices coupled with extreme precipitation, followed by weak lake circulation and warm temperatures. The bloom began in the western region in mid-July and covered an area of 230 square miles (600 km2). At its peak in October, the bloom had expanded to over 1930 square miles (5000 km2). Its peak intensity was over 3 times greater than any other bloom on record. The scientists predicted that, unless agricultural policies change, the lake will continue to experience

Coral reefs are havens for marine biodiversity and underpin the economies of many coastal communities. But they are very sensitive to changes in ocean chemistry resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to pollution, warming waters, overdevelopment, and overfishing. Reefs use a mineral called aragonite, a naturally occurring form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3, to make their skeletons.  When carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, it forms carbonic acid—the same stuff that makes soda fizz--making the ocean more acidic and thus more difficult for many marine organisms to grow their shells and skeletons and threatening coral reefs globally.

Chris Field is a co-principal investigator of the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in northern California. The site, designed to exploit grasslands as models for understanding how ecosystems may respond to climate change, hosts a number of studies of the potential effects from elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, elevated temperature, increased precipitation, and increased nitrogen deposition. The site houses experimental plots that replicate all possible combinations of the four treatments and additional sampling sites that control for the effects of project infrastructure. Studies focus on several integrated ecosystem responses to the

Until now, computer models have been the primary tool for estimating photosynthetic productivity on a global scale. They are based on estimating a measure for plant energy called gross primary production (GPP), which is the rate at which plants capture and store a unit of chemical energy as biomass over a specific time. Joe Berry was part of a team that took an entirely new approach by using satellite technology to measure light that is emitted by plant leaves as a byproduct of photosynthesis as shown by the artwork.

The plant produces fluorescent light when sunlight excites the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll. Satellite instruments sense this fluorescence yielding a direct

Staff Associate Kamena Kostova joined the Department of Embryology in November 2018. She studies ribosomes, the factory-like structures inside cells that produce proteins. Scientists have known about ribosome structure, function, and biogenesis for some time. But, a major unanswered question is how cells monitor the integrity of the ribosome itself. Problems with ribosomes have been associated with diseases including neurodegeneration and cancer. The Kostova lab investigates the fundamental question of how cells respond when their ribosomes break down using mass spectrometry, functional genomics methods, and CRISPR genome editing.

Kostova received a B.S. in Biology from the

Sally June Tracy applies cutting-edge experimental and analytical techniques to understand the fundamental physical behavior of materials at extreme conditions. She uses dynamic compression techniques with high-flux X-ray sources to probe the structural changes and phase transitions in materials at conditions that mimic impacts and the interiors of terrestrial and exoplanets. She is also an expert in nuclear resonant scattering and synchrotron X-ray diffraction. She uses these techniques to understand novel behavior at the electronic level.  Tracy received her Ph.D. from the California Institute of

The Ludington lab investigates complex ecological dynamics from microbial community interactions using the fruit fly  Drosophila melanogaster. The fruit fly gut carries numerous microbial species, which can be cultured in the lab. The goal is to understand the gut ecology and how it relates to host health, among other questions, by taking advantage of the fast time-scale and ease of studying the fruit fly in controlled experiments. 

Nick Konidaris is a staff scientist at the Carnegie Observatories and Instrument Lead for the SDSS-V Local Volume Mapper (LVM). He works on a broad range of new optical instrumentation projects in astronomy and remote sensing. Nick's projects range from experimental to large workhorse facilities. On the experimental side, he recently began working on a new development platform for the 40-inch Swope telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory that will be used to explore and understand the explosive universe.

 Nick and his colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology are leveraging the work on Swope to develop a new airborne spectrograph that will be