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Clouds & Biodiversity

April 4, 2016

Scientists are tracking the range of species by analyzing satellite images of cloud cover.


Jaan Rincon de la Vieja meets clouds, Guanacaste, Costa Rica CC BY 2.0 via flickr

What do clouds reveal about the organisms living below? (Jaan/CC BY 2.0, via flickr)


Biodiversity clues from clouds. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Looking at cloud cover from space can give scientists a surprisingly clear picture of what’s living down below, since clouds affect sunlight, moisture and temperature. In the journal PLOS Biology, University of Buffalo ecologist Adam Wilson, formerly of Yale, writes that high-resolution cloud imaging accurately revealed the range of a bird and a shrub in South America.

ADAM WILSON (University of Buffalo):

There’s so many species on Earth that we don’t know where they are, really, and having sort of a continuous observational dataset can enable us to better predict places where species could b e that actually no one has gone there to observe.


The dataset includes fifteen years of satellite images, with two photos per kilometer of Earth every day. Wilson says it’s helping them locate species and predict areas where threatened species are most at risk.  I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.