NASA globe app gives nature walks new purpose

Many people upload pictures of nature, trees in particular, on social media. NASA is now asking users to do that more for the sake of science to help measure trees’ height.

NASA globe app gives nature walks new purposeThe space agency’s ICESat-2 satellite estimates the height of trees from space, and NASA has created a new tool for citizen scientists that can help check those measurements from the ground. All it takes is a smartphone, the app, an optional tape measure, and a tree.

TheICESat-2 satellite carries an instrument called ATLAS that shoots 60,000 pulses of light at the Earth’s surface every second it orbits the planet. “It’s basically a laser in space,” says Tom Neumann.

Download the NASA GLOBE observer app, you can choose from different tools that record cloud observations, mosquito habitats, and the landscape around you. There’s also a new tool for measuring trees, called GLOBE Trees.

When you first open it, an earnest tutorial walks you through how to calibrate the app and take the measurements that lets it triangulate tree heights. The tutorial includes helpful tips for things like “Selecting a tree”  apparently, bent and broken ones don’t get measured.

Once you’ve selected your non-broken tree and staked out a spot about 25 to 75 feet away, you hold the phone right in front of your face and angle it to measure the base and then the tree’s top. Then you take a picture, count your steps to the tree, log your position at its base, and the app spits out the tree’s height.

Since the official launch at the end of March, GLOBE Trees has received about 700 measurements from around 20 different countries, according to senior NASA Earth Science outreach specialist Brian Campbell, the Trees Science lead. 

And the researchers would love to get even more. The measurements are useful data for the ICESat-2 team, Neumann says. So when it comes to people using the app, he says, “The more, the merrier.”