Coordinated by the researcher Sérgio Godinho, from the Remote Sensing Laboratory (EarsLab) of the Institute of Earth Sciences (ICT) of UÉ, the project was developed under the ICESat-2 Applied Users Programme of the North American Space Agency (NASA).

"It aims, using remote sensing, to develop innovative methods to map forest fuels and obtain essential cartography to support the planning and management of forest fire prevention activities," explains a statement sent by UÉ to Lusa news agency.

According to statements from the coordinator, the project will allow, over the next three years, the "collaboration with some of the world's best researchers and scientists in Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology from space".

"It will also be a way of projecting the name of the UÉ, giving visibility to the specialised investigation of forest fires, a pressing problem of contemporary society", added Sérgio Godinho in declarations to the institution's press office.

The aim of the project is to "test and combine a set of methodologies" that allow "translating the laser signal emitted and registered by the ICESat-2 satellite" into quantitative information, obtaining "precise data on the structure and quantity of the vegetation existing on the Earth's surface".

NASA's ICESat-2 satellite, which has been orbiting 500 kilometres from Earth since 2018, has cutting-edge technology that allows it to create a three-dimensional global portrait of the planet and makes it possible to "map with extreme precision the characteristics of the territory".

This allows scientists, through the data obtained, to "track changes on the ground, including the melting of glaciers, rising sea levels or changes in vegetation".

It is precisely in the area of vegetation changes that the project led by Sérgio Godinho is inserted, which uses the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) sensor, on board ICESat-2, to send "laser pulses to the Earth's surface" and collect "through a telescope, the photons that are reflected back into space".

By recording "the travel time of the photons" between the Earth and the telescope, ATLAS converts it into "distance travelled" using the "constant of the speed of light".

"Knowing the exact position of ICESat-2, through a high-precision GPS incorporated in the system, the distance travelled by the photons is converted into height, that is, for each photon registered the respective coordinate and altitude will be associated," explains UÉ.

Based on this information, researchers can reconstruct the vertical profile of the vegetation, which will allow, among others, to generate a set of variables, including "the height of the canopy or height of the base of the canopy" of trees and "estimate the amount of above-ground biomass".

NASA's ICESat-2 Applied Users Programme aims to "generate a direct benefit for society in different areas", including forests, agriculture, biodiversity and the atmosphere.

In this sense, NASA selected a set of research projects oriented to different scientific applications, and the project submitted by the UÉ researcher was "one of those awarded".