Photonic Eyes on Earth

Yael Fitzpatrick and Stewart Wills

From the depths of the core to the fringes of the atmosphere, photonic technologies are driving new insights on Earth history, natural disasters and climate change.

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The waves most associated with Earth science—seismic rumblings, for instance, and wind-driven disturbances that churn the oceans—are many orders of magnitude larger than the micrometer-scale wavelengths that preoccupy optical scientists and engineers. Yet as with so many other scientific areas, advances in optics and photonics, including lasers, fiber optics, lidar and more, are providing toolkits for studying Earth that go way beyond the field geologist’s hammer. And they’ve enabled spectacular new perspectives in settings that range from deep in the planet’s core to its surface, its atmosphere and out into space.

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