How do we study the BIOSPHERE?
Many different kinds of scientists study the biosphere, using many kinds of tools.
Some scientists go into the field to study animals and plants in their native environments. Some scientists study cellular processes in the laboratory with sophisticated equipment. Some do experiments to see how changes in the environment result in changes in the organism.
NASA scientists use remote sensing to observe a section of the Earth each orbit, and then combine the data from many orbits to recreate the whole planet at once. Sensors in space observe our world in many different wavelengths of light. Combinations of these images can be used to determine what is growing in each patch of the Earth, and even if it is healthy or not. As sensors get better and more sensitive, the size of the smallest patch that can be observed from space gets smaller and smaller - to within a few meters now. Remote sensing data can be used in estimating biomass, soil moisture, changes in elevation, or even animal population densities.
At a smaller scale, other scientists may investigate the processes involved in cycling water and the elements of life through the biosphere: carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and other elements. These studies can also provide "ground-truth" - observations on the ground which are used to validate the remotely-sensed data. As more and more observational and experimental data become available, other scientists construct models to help us understand the biosphere, how it evolved, and even provide tools that allow for predicting the future response of the biosphere to global change and human activities.
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