What on Earth Is This?

No, this isn't a closeup of a Cosby Sweater. Nor is it the result of those shrooms you ingested twenty minutes ago. It's actually science's newest means of mapping one of the Earth's wildest and most remote regions.

Mapping the Amazonian Rainforest is a daunting endeavor given the region's huge expanse, lack of development, and sheer density of growth. But, researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford have devised an ingenious way to view the forest in Peru. They employ LiDar affixed to a twin-engine Dornier 228 airplane to scan the forest at a rate of 139 square miles per hour. The LiDar bounces a laser beam off the canopy 400,000 times a second, which creates the incredibly detailed map. What's more, an on-board spectrometer measures the trees' chemical and optical properties, which results in the psychedelic image you see above.

"The technology that we have here gives us a first-ever look at the Amazon in its full three-dimensional detail, over very large regions," said team leader Greg Asner. "[It's] the critical information that's missing for managing these systems, for conserving them and for developing policy to better utilise the Amazon basin as a resource, while still protecting what it has in terms of its biological diversity."

Besides measuring the forest's health since the region's 2010 drought, it allows for a clearer picture of the effects of deforestation and has uncovered disturbing spikes in illegal gold mining in the region. This information could help sway the United Nations into providing funding for the REDD initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). [The Guardian via TreeHugger]