A Global Biodiversity Crisis: How NASA Satellites Help Track Changes to Life on Earth

by | Apr 19, 2023 | Climate Change

By Angela Colbert, Ph.D.,
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In Brief:

Climate change plays an increasing role in the global decline of biodiversity—the variety of life on Earth. Scientists use NASA data to track ecosystem changes and to develop tools for conserving life on land, in our ocean, and in freshwater ecosystems.

Many of us associate the sound of a singing bird with the beauty of nature. In recent years, though, fewer chirps, tweets, and birdsong have been heard. It isn’t because birds have stopped singing, but because there are fewer of them. A 2019 study from Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology estimated that we’ve lost about 3 billion wild birds in North America, leaving 29% fewer than in 1970. Human actions are the principal reason.

It’s not just the birds. A report from the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimates that about one million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. Woody Turner, program scientist for NASA’s Biological Diversity Research Program, stated: “We are really at a global biodiversity crisis, losing not only entire species but also seeing decreases in the number of plants and animals that are important for natural ecosystems.”

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A biodiverse planet means life has many different ways to survive and thrive. But human actions are affecting the natural balance of life on Earth. This includes habitat loss from deforestation, land use changes, and climate change. Rising global temperatures, a more acidic ocean, and extreme weather events — from heat waves and droughts to floods and wildfires — are rapidly changing global ecosystems. Larger organisms often take thousands to millions of years to evolve and …

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