The European Space Agency is set to launch a new innovative Earth explorer satellite in 2020 to map and monitor the global forests – our planet’s most important natural resources.

ESA’s Earth Observation Programme Board has selected “Biomass” to become the seventh Earth Explorer mission. The innovative satellite aims to ‘weigh’ the Earth’s forests.

The Biomass mission concept is set to become the next in a series of satellites developed to further our understanding of Earth, ESA said in a statement.

The satellite will be designed to provide, for the first time from space, P-band radar measurements that are optimised to determine the amount of biomass and carbon stored in the world’s forests with greater accuracy than ever before.

This information, which is poorly known in the tropics, is essential to our understanding of the role of forests in Earth’s carbon cycle and in climate change.

Reliable knowledge of tropical forest biomass also underpins the implementation of the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) initiative – an international effort to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation in developing countries.

The measurements made by Biomass offer the opportunity to map the elevation of Earth’s terrain under dense vegetation, yielding information on subsurface geology and allowing the estimation of glacier and ice-sheet velocities, critical to our understanding of ice-sheet mass loss in a warming Earth.

Biomass also has the potential to evolve into an operational system, providing long-term monitoring of forests – one of Earth’s most important natural resources. The launch of the mission is foreseen for 2020.

“Biomass is an innovative new addition to the Earth Explorer satellite series,” said Volker Liebig, Director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programmes.

It will play an important role in quantifying forest biomass – information necessary to better understand the carbon cycle, the space agency said.

The Earth Explorers are a series of satellites developed to further our understanding of Earth.

Three missions currently in orbit are providing new insight into Earth’s cryosphere, gravity and soil moisture and ocean salinity.