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Exploring Earth From Space: Amazon Rainforest

This image, over part of the Amazon rainforest in the Amazonas – the largest state in Brazil, has been processed using the infrared channel of the Sentinel-2 satellite which makes the dense rainforest appear in bright green. This makes differences in vegetation coverage more evident than only using the visible channels of the satellite that our eyes are able to see. Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Ahead of the International Day of Forests, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over part of the Amazon rainforest in the Amazonas – the largest state in Brazil.

As its name implies, the Amazonas is almost entirely covered by the Amazon rainforest – the world’s largest tropical rainforest covering an area of around six million sq km. The Amazon is the world’s richest and most-varied biological reservoir, containing several million species of insects, birds, plants and other forms of life.

This image has been processed using the infrared channel of the Sentinel-2 satellite which makes the dense rainforest appear in bright green. This makes differences in vegetation coverage more evident than only using the visible channels of the satellite that our eyes are able to see.

In the top of the image, the Juruá River, the most-winding river in the Amazon basin, is visible. The river appears in shades of maroon and magenta as the reflected sunlight from the water’s surface consists of a mix of mainly blue and green, while the reflection in the near infrared is almost zero – leading to the colours we see here.

The Juruá river, which flows more than 3000 km before emptying into the Amazon River, is turbid with relatively high nutrient levels. The river rises in the highlands in east-central Peru before winding its way through lowlands in Brazil.

Several crescent-shaped oxbow lakes can be seen flanking the river. Oxbow lakes are generally formed when rivers cut through a meander ‘neck’ to shorten its course, causing the old channel to be blocked off – migrating away from the lake and creating a more direct route.

The Tarauacá River, a tributary of Juruá, can be seen in the left of the image. Eirunepé, a settlement established in the 19th Century as a hub for rubber production, is visible in the top-left of the image.

March 21, 2021, marks the International Day of Forests – a day which seeks to raise awareness on a range of benefits that sustainably managed forests can contribute to our lives. According to the United Nations, the world is losing 10 million hectares of forest each year, which accounts for 12-20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Amazon rainforest is crucial for helping to regulate global warming as the forests absorb millions of tonnes of carbon emissions every year. As plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as biomass. This is then released back to the atmosphere through processes such as deforestation for agriculture and wildfires.

Tracking biomass changes is key to understanding the global carbon cycle and also for informing global climate models that help predict future change. Earth observation satellites have been instrumental in helping our understanding of this important process. New maps produced by ESA’s Climate Change Initiative, provide a global view of above ground biomass are pertinent in helping to support forest management, emissions reduction and sustainable development policy goals.

ESA’s upcoming Biomass mission will provide crucial information about the state of our forests and how they are changing. The satellite will pierce through woodland canopies to perform a global survey of Earth’s forests over the course of Biomass’s mission.



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