From January 26-February 6, 2004, an expedition of students, teachers, and scientists visited Barro Colorado Island, Panama, to explore the rainforest there while the JASON network of classrooms all over the world participated remotely via televised broadcasts.
Please see Panama: Isthmus that Changed the World for details on the topography of Panama and how that landscape was formed. Also, a high-resolution QuickBird image of Barro Colorado Island is available.
Why study the rainforest? Though we often take the plants and trees around us for granted, almost every aspect of our lives depends upon them. They feed us, clothe us, absorb carbon dioxide, provide us with oxygen, and give us building materials and medications. Drastic changes to the vegetation around us affect our health, economy, and environment. Wondrous in their diversity of species, prolific in their plant growth rates, rainforests are particularly important ecosystems. Scientists observe that both natural climate changes and human activities are stressing tropical rainforests in some regions, and so scientists are collecting the data they need to predict how these important ecosystems will respond.
NASA’s Terra, Aqua, and Landsat satellites carry sensors that collect detailed measurements of the land surface every day all over the world, creating a picture of Earth that can be updated every day as the Earth changes. Sensors onboard these, and other, satellites are continually collecting a “mosaic” of image data all over Earth’s vegetated surfaces, including rainforests like those in Panama.
NASA, the University of Washington, and the University of Georgia are providing samples of these remote sensing data to help educators and students participating in JASON understand how and why scientists use satellites to monitor Earth’s vegetation characteristics, and to explore the relationships among key vegetation characteristics, including greenness, leaf area, absorbed sunlight, photosynthetic activity, and day and nighttime temperature.