"Our role is to study the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and how land management impacts that ecosystem. In Kansas, we're interested in how management decisions like grazing and burning, coupled with year-to-year weather variations, impact the movement of carbon dioxide between the surface and the atmosphere," Ham said.
"Through these networks we're trying to get a good understanding of all the major ecosystems in the world: grasslands versus Amazon forests versus African savannah versus tundra in Alaska," Ham said.
"The earth's atmosphere links all cultures and nations. By that, I mean that carbon dioxide emitted in China, for example, can impact the vegetation in North America or Europe and vice versa. Any decisions about climate change have to be based on a complete global analysis," he said.
"Having this remote sensing tool will support a lot of environmental research that's already going on in Kansas and also elsewhere," Ham said. "Because it can fly as low as 15 feet and as slow as 30 miles per hour if necessary, we're going to be able to see details that we cannot measure with a regular piloted aircraft.
"I think it will be possible not only to be able to say how much and what species of vegetation are there, but more importantly, to know the stress status of the plants: Is there water stress? Are the plants photosynthesizing at a high rate? We should be able to discern that information down to pixels representing less than a square foot of land area."