Press Release

NASA helps conservation biologists get the big picture

By SpaceRef Editor
July 23, 2001
Filed under , ,

NASA’s views of Earth — from satellite images to photographs taken by astronauts —
can give conservation biologists the big picture of how our planet and the life on it are
changing, from forest fragmentation to the possible link between UV-B radiation and
amphibian declines.

To explore NASA’s role in conservation, the August issue of Conservation Biology
includes a 12-paper special section “NASA and the Conservation of Biodiversity”,
which was co- edited by Woody Turner of NASA’s Office of Earth Science in
Washington DC and Eleanor Sterling of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation
at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, New York.

Many of these projects stem from the 1997 NASA-Smithsonian workshop
“Applications of NASA Technology for Biodiversity Conservation”, where NASA
researchers and conservation biologists found ways of applying NASA’s tools to
conservation challenges worldwide.

The projects include:

–using radar images to distinguish patches of natural forest from areas of cocoa
planted under remnant canopy trees in Brazil’s Atlantic coast rainforest. Compared to
optical technology, radar has the advantage of penetrating both the cloud cover and
tree canopy. Such work could help identify high-biodiversity areas for reserves and
corridors. This work is by Saasan Saatchi of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the
California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, and colleagues.

–using astronauts’ low Earth orbit photographs to identify woodlands damaged by the
growing elephant population in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. Nearly 400,000
photographs taken by astronauts since the late 1960s are available in a searchable
database at This work is by Julie Robinson of NASA’s
Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and her colleagues.

–using satellite images to determine if surface currents could have spread the
pathogen that caused the mass sea urchin deaths in the Caribbean and Gulf of
Mexico in 1993- 1994. This work is by Jonathan Phinney of the Center for Marine
Conservation in Washington DC and his colleagues.

–using satellite-derived UV-B radiation data to show that UV-B has increased
signficantly at 11 Central American sites where amphibians have declined. This work
is by Elizabeth Middleton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland, and her colleagues. The special section also includes three other papers
investigating correlations between amphibian declines and environmental factors.


For faxes of papers, contact Robin Meadows mailto:

For more information about the Society for Conservation Biology:


*Woody Turner (202-358-1662,

[NOTE: he will be unavailable July 17-24 and July 27-August 13]

*Eleanor Sterling (212-769-5266,

*Saasan Saatchi (

*Julie Robinson (

*Jonathan Phinney (

*Elizabeth Middleton (


*Woody Turner has a limited number that he can provide to reporters


*Woody Turner


Applications of NASA Technology for Biodiversity Conservation .

Conservation Biology and NASA

SpaceRef staff editor.