The research, published in the journal PLoS Biology, analyzes 15 years of data from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites orbiting Earth. The comprehensive observations allowed the scientists to build a database containing two images per day of cloud cover for almost every square kilometer of the planet from 2000 to 2014.
Although observing clouds seems like a strange way to map species, they influence factors such as rain, sunlight, surface temperature, and leaf moisture - conditions that dictate where plants and animals can survive.
The study determined that variations in cloud cover outline the limits of the biome –part of the planet that shares the climate, flora and fauna–, also in tropical forests where clouds are home to many species that are not found anywhere else in the world. world.
"When we visualized the data, it was remarkable how clearly many different biomes on Earth could be seen based on the frequency and timing of cloudy days in the past 15 years," says Adam Wilson, lead author of the study at the Yale University. "As you cross from one ecosystem to another, these transitions show up very clearly, and what's interesting is that these data allow you to directly observe the patterns that follow with a resolution of one kilometer."
Cloud cover also helped researchers better predict where specific species live. By taking into account the behavior patterns of the clouds, the team was able to determine both the size and location of the habitats of the South American montane nuthatch (Lepidocolaptes lacrymiger) and the king protea shrub (Protea cynaroides) from South Africa. with unprecedented detail.
That finding is particularly interesting because the technique could be used to investigate the habitats of endangered plants and animals, according to Walter Jetz, a co-author of the paper and associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University.
"Understanding the spatial patterns of biodiversity is critical if we want to make informed decisions about how to protect species and manage ecosystems and their multiple functions in the future," adds Jetz. "In the regions that host the most biodiversity, there is a real lack of data on the ground."
Remote sensing, a tool for conservation
The authors of this study say that remote sensing can be a powerful tool in monitoring ecosystems.
"When it comes to the conservation of threatened species, policies and regulations are largely determined by our understanding of how large these populations are and where they are," says Wilson. "We show that remote sensing in combination with science can be an effective tool to help law enforcement."
In the past, scientists interested in climate data relied on observations taken at weather stations scattered around the world. This left large areas of land uncontrolled, limiting investigations, because many characteristics of ecosystems - such as temperature and rainfall - vary significantly in small regions.
Data from satellites allow researchers to conduct research without such gaps. "This is one of the most exciting developments in our field today," says Wilson.
Photo: Space-time dynamics of clouds visualized with a seasonal concentration metric, which combines the magnitude and timing of monthly fluctuations in cloud frequency during 15 years of satellite observations, twice a day. The hue indicates the month of peak cloudiness, while the saturation indicates the magnitude of the concentration that varies from 0 (black, all months are equally cloudy) to 100 (all clouds are concentrated in a single month). Coastlines are shown in white, marine areas with no data are dark gray / Adam Wilson
The Epoch Times