Washington, August 21 (ANI): A NASA scientist has made what is believed to be the first full assessment of the African continent's mangrove forests.
Environmental scientist Lola Fatoyinbo of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed and employed a method that can be used across the continent, overcoming expensive, ad hoc, and inconsistent modes of ground-based measurement.
"We've lost more than 50 percent of the world's mangrove forests in a little over half a century; a third of them have disappeared in the last 20 years alone," said Fatoyinbo, whose earlier study of Mozambique's coastal forests laid the groundwork for the continent-wide study.
"Hopefully, this technique will offer scientists and officials a method of estimating change in this special type of forest," she added.
Mangroves are the most common ecosystem in coastal areas of the tropics and sub-tropics.
The swampy forests are essential, especially in densely-populated developing countries, for rice farming, fishing and aquaculture (freshwater and saltwater farming), timber, and firewood.
Some governments also increasingly depend on them for eco-tourism.
The large, dense root systems are a natural obstacle that helps protect shorelines against debris and erosion.
Mangroves are often the first line of defense against severe storms, tempering the impact of strong winds and floods.
These coastal woodlands also have a direct link to climate, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere at a rate of about 100 pounds per acre per day, which is comparable to the per acre intake by tropical rainforests (though rainforests cover more of Earth's surface).
"To my knowledge, this study is the first complete mapping of Africa's mangroves, a comprehensive, historic baseline enabling us to truly begin monitoring the welfare of these forests," said Assaf Anyamba, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County expert on vegetation mapping, based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Fatoyinbo's research combines multiple satellite observations of tree height and land cover, mathematical formulas, and "ground-truthing" data from the field to measure the full expanse and makeup of the coastal forests.
Her measurements yielded three new kinds of maps of mangroves: continental maps of how much land the mangroves cover; a three-dimensional map of the height of forest canopies across the continent; and biomass maps that allow researchers to assess how much carbon the forests store.
"Beyond density or geographical size of the forests, the measurements get to the heart of the structure, or type, of mangroves," explained Fatoyinbo. (ANI)