Rainforest canopy-penetrating technology gets boost for forest carbon monitoring
December 4, 2008

A tool for monitoring tropical deforestation has gotten a boost from the one of the world's largest supporters of Amazon conservation.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology with a $1.6-million grant to expand and improve its tropical forest monitoring tool known as the Carnegie Landsat Analysis System Lite (CLASLite). The Stanford University-based group says CLASLite "will rapidly advance deforestation and degradation mapping in Latin America, and will help rain forest nations better monitor their changing carbon budgets." The technology will prove useful as the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) mechanism — currently under negotiation at international climate talks — comes online.

"About 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and degradation of tropical forests," said Greg Asner, project leader and a researcher at Stanford. "And much of it occurs in developing nations, where monitoring capabilities are often unavailable to governments and NGOs. This grant allows us to improve and expand CLASLite, and to train many people from tropical forest nations so that they can determine where and when forest losses are occurring. Perhaps most importantly, rain forest nations will be able to better determine how much CO2 comes from deforestation and degradation—information that has been very scarce in the past. We hope that CLASLite will become a central tool for rain forest monitoring in support of global carbon crediting for REDD—the United Nations initiative on Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation."

his output from CLASLite shows deforestation (bare soil) in pink and forest disturbance from logging in blue in the Brazilian Amazon. The map depicts changes through time with each successive overlay. Image provided by the Asner lab.
CLASLite is capable of penetrating the upper levels of the rainforest canopy and detecting small differences in vegetation patterns at a scale of about 100 feet (30 meters), producing forest maps from old and new data from Landsat satellites, as well as several other NASA sensors in Earth orbit. The technology can sense changes due to selective logging and small surface fires that burn below the forest canopy. New iterations of the technology are increasingly user friendly, designed for a desktop environment.

"We have learned through the training of new users of CLASLite that forest monitoring can become an everyday activity that no longer requires huge investments in computers or expertise," said David Knapp, a senior scientific programmer in Asner's group. "This is our goal.”

This grant will support the efforts to provide training and technology transfer in most tropical forest nations in the Andes-Amazon region — the Moore Foundation's focal area in South America — stretching from Venezuela and Guyana across to Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The Moore Foundation is the largest private donor to Amazon conservation and research.

"Given the increased interest and activity for simple forest monitoring methods and rising emphasis on the monitoring needs around REDD, CLASLite, is clearly a strategic tool," added Luis Solorzano, the Andes Amazon Lead and Director for South American Programs at the Moore Foundation. "Dr. Asner and Carnegie are uniquely positioned to deliver this state-of-the-art technology to the right end-use organizations both in government and civil society working to conserve and manage Andes-Amazon forests. We fully support his vision for a full and transparent deployment of CLASLite across the Andes Amazon region with an emphasis on securing its accessibility by all stakeholders."

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Rainforest canopy-penetrating technology gets boost for forest carbon monitoring.