This chapter and those that follow were designed to support a series of "hands-on" exercises illustrating how satellite data can be used to monitor vegetation dynamics around the globe. After reading the chapters and completing the exercises, it is anticipated that students will be able to carry out further studies using image data available from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Distributed Active Archive Center (GSFC DAAC).

Chapter 1 provides an overview of global vegetation studies, followed by a brief review of Earth's various systems. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss in detail the interaction of solar energy with Earth systems, and how energy and materials move through the biosphere. Plant and community vegetation properties are presented in Chapter 4, followed in Chapter 5 by an overview of remote sensing concepts and techniques relevant to vegetation studies. Chapter 6 describes global vegetation distributions and how vegetation types are classified into similar, useful groups. Changes in vegetation cover are examined in Chapters 7 and 8, including how change is monitored, and how human populations alter and, in turn, are influenced by land cover dynamics. Accompanying this series is a group of computer lab exercises that illustrate actual examples of vegetation studies using satellite imagery.

In the chapters that follow, Earth's "geospheres" are treated as an integrated unit, characterized by feedbacks and linkages compelling an Earth system view. The study of Earth as a whole interrelated system is known as Earth System Science, an approach that advocates and benefits from interdisciplinary cooperation and support of many researchers and organizations around the world.

Topics are presented as follows: