The global quest to “go green” has led to new scientific data concerning the world’s forests—and a potential opportunity for tree care companies to profit. NASA technology is allowing scientists to collect and view never-before-seen data about the world’s tree canopy, thanks to information provided by three satellites. Michael Lefsky, a remote-sensing specialist from Colorado State University, used the data to produce a map showing the height of the world’s forests, the first map of its kind to cover the entire globe using a single uniform method. (To view a larger version of the map, visit www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/forest-height-map.html.) The data collection, which spanned seven years, used laser technology to shoot pulses of light at the ground and measured how much longer it took for light to bounce back from the surface than the top of the tree canopy. Not surprisingly, the world’s tallest forests are clustered in the Pacific Northwest U.S. and Southeast Asia. The project is one step toward the larger goal of mapping all aboveground biomass on the planet, which will assist scientists with estimating the amount of carbon tied up in the planet’s forests. Eventually, the biomass inventories will be used to improve climate models and guide policymakers on carbon management strategies.
The development of alternative energy sources has introduced an emerging market for tree care companies: biomass. This growing industry uses organic waste in a wide range of applications, from generating electricity to transportation fuels. A recent report from Pike Research, a research and consulting firm that analyzes global clean technology markets, estimates that the market value of electricity generated by biomass in the U.S. will reach $53 billion by 2020. Also, the USDA awarded more than $4.2 million in grants to small businesses and community groups developing renewable energy projects and product development using woody biomass. Tree care equipment manufacturers have taken note, introducing some new equipment designed specifically for prepping wood waste for biomass use. Though many biomass projects require quantities of wood waste that may be unrealistic for smaller tree care operations, there are certainly opportunities for some, and future developments may present a chance for all to profit. See page 7 of this issue for more on the biomass market.