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December 12 2012

Seeing the Amazon in a new light will help to save it

No, this isn't a candy forest. This is the Peruvian Amazon as seen by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO), an instrument-laden aircaft that is mapping tropical ecology in unprecedented detail.

The plane carries the Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System, or AToMS, which uses an imaging spectrometer that engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, helped to build. It detects chemical signals and recognises the signatures of plant species, while a laser-ranging system draws up a 3D model of the landscape below. The CAO can reach every tropical region on the planet and scan 50,000 hectares a day.

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