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News articles on remote sensing

Mongabay.com news articles on remote sensing in blog format. Updated regularly.









Free availability of satellite imagery has boosted deforestation monitoring applications, but risk of data gap looms

(09/29/2010) In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of satellite-based monitoring applications and technologies, which is perhaps best exemplified in the eyes of the public by Google Earth, which allows anyone with a decent internet connection to view overhead images of nearly any place on Earth. But these new applications are also helping scientists more effectively monitor environmental change, including the fluctuations in polar sea ice, shifts in oceanic plankton, and deforestation. An important factor in the expanded use of satellite imagery has been the U.S. government's free Landsat Data Distribution Policy, which allows free or inexpensive access to data captured by Landsat satellites, which have been collected data on a regular basis since 1972. But the Landsat program is not presently operating at its full capacity, increasing the risk of a 'data gap' before a new system is in place in 2012.


Google Earth launches ocean layer for iPhone, iPad users

(09/21/2010) Google Earth's ocean layer is now available on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, reports Google in a blog post.


Linking satellite and socio-economic data helps explain deforestation, disease trends

(09/08/2010) To better understand what leads to environmental changes on Earth, Stanford's Eric Lambin combines remote satellite data with on-the- ground conversations with local residents. This in-depth knowledge may lead, for example, to less deforestation.


Peru's rainforest highway triggers surge in deforestation, according to new 3D forest mapping

(09/06/2010) Scientists using a combination of satellite imagery, airborne-laser technology, and ground-based plot surveys to create three-dimensional high resolution carbon maps of the Amazon rainforest have documented a surge in emissions from deforestation and selective logging following the paving of the Trans-Oceanic Highway in Peru. The study, published this week in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that selective logging and other forms of forest degradation in Peru account for nearly a third of emissions compared to deforestation alone.


NASA: surge in Amazon fires

(08/31/2010) The number of fire hotspots has surged in the Bolivian and Brazilian parts of the Amazon, reveals data and imagery from NASA.


Amazon deforestation falls significantly in 2010, according to preliminary data

(08/31/2010) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is down significantly since last year, according to preliminary estimates released by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and Imazon, a Brazil-based NGO that tracks forest loss and degradation across the Amazon. Analysis of NASA MODIS data by Imazon found some 1,488 square kilometers of forest were cleared during the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, down 16 percent from the same period last year, when 1,766 square kilometers were deforested. Meanwhile analysis by INPE shows an even steeper drop from 4,375 square kilometers in August 2008 through July 2009 to 2,296 square kilometers in the current period, a decline of 48 percent. The discrepancy between INPE's and Imazon's estimates results from differences in how deforestation is tracked.


80% of rainforests could adversely impacted by logging, deforestation, climate change by 2100

(08/05/2010) The world's tropical forests may suffer large-scale degradation and deforestation by the end of the century if current logging and climate change trends persist, finds a new analysis published in Conservation Letters.


The changing nature of illegal logging - and illegal logging investigations - in Brazil's Amazon

(07/08/2010) Operation Jurupari followed on several previous Brazilian Federal Police investigations into SEMA, including: Operation Curupira I (June 2005); Curupira II (August 2005); Mapinguari (2007), Arc of Fire (2008), Termes (April 2008); and Caipora (2008). It was led by Franco Perazzoni, Brazilian Federal Police "Delegado" (or chief), who, since 2006, has headed the environmental crimes unit in Mato Grosso and been responsible for about 300 investigations on environmental crimes, of which about 75% were on illegal deforestation in federal areas. The nature of the illegal deforestation has changed over the years.


Amazon soy moratorium extended

(07/08/2010) Brazilian soy farmers have extended their moratorium on Amazon deforestation for another year, reports Greenpeace.


2010 the second hottest year on record through May

(06/23/2010) The first five months of 2010 have been the second warmest on record, according to data released by the University of Alabama Huntsville.


New protected areas in Brazil contribute to major drop in Amazon deforestation rate

(06/01/2010) Protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon are proving highly effective in reducing forest loss in Earth's largest rainforest, reports a new study based on analysis of deforestation trends in and around indigenous territories, parks, military holdings, and sustainable use reserves. The research, published in the early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that 37 percent of the recent decline in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon can be attributed to newly established protected areas. Brazil designated some 709,000 square kilometers (274,000 sq mi) of Amazon forest — an area larger than the state of Texas — between 2002 and 2009 under its Amazon Protected Areas Program (ARPA). Meanwhile deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell by nearly three-quarters between 2004 and 2009.


NASA satellite image reveals massive oil spill

(04/26/2010) A newly released NASA satellite image reveals oil leaking from the BP oil rig that sank after it exploded April 20, 2010. The explosion killed 11 workers.


Eating Appalachia: NASA satellite images reveal mountain cannibalism for coal

(03/02/2010) New images released by NASA reveal the conversion of mountains and forests in southern West Virginia to a giant surface mine.


Google Earth boosts deforestation monitoring capabilities

(02/07/2010) Google has taken a step towards ramping up the deforestation monitoring capabilities the Google Earth Engine by contracting Massachusetts-based Clark Labs to develop an online version of its Land Change Modeler application.


Satellites being used to track illegal logging, rosewood trafficking in Madagascar

(01/28/2010) Analysts in Europe and the United States are using high resolution satellite imagery to identify and track shipments of timber illegally logged from rainforest parks in Madagascar. The images could be used to help prosecute traders involved in trafficking and put pressure on companies using rosewood from Madagascar.


The warmest decade on record

(01/27/2010) The 2000s were the warmest decade on record according to analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).


Biggest private funder of Amazon conservation teams with Google and scientists to develop earth monitoring platform

(12/18/2009) The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the largest private funder of Amazon rainforest conservation, is playing an unheralded but integral role in the development of the Earth Engine platform, a system that combines the computing power of Google with advanced monitoring and analysis technologies developed by leading environmental scientists. The platform, which was officially unveiled at climate talks in in Copenhagen, promises to enable near real-time monitoring of the world's forests and carbon at high resolution at selected sites before COP-16 in Mexico.


Google's Earth Engine to help tropical countries monitor forests

(12/16/2009) A powerful forest monitoring application unveiled last week by Google will be made freely available to developing countries as a means to build the capacity to quality for compensation under REDD, a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism that would pay tropical countries for protecting forests, according to a senior Google engineer presenting at a side event at COP15 in Copenhagen.


Amazon cattle ranching accounts for half of Brazil's CO2 emissions

(12/12/2009) Cattle ranching accounts for half of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions according to a new study led by scientists from Brazil's National Space Institute for Space Research (INPE).


Global forest map moves forward

(12/11/2009) A plan to create a pan-tropical map of forest cover and carbon stocks is moving ahead with data now available on Google Earth, reports the Woods Hole Research Center.


Google Earth to monitor deforestation

(12/10/2009) It what could be a critical development in helping tropical countries monitor deforestation, Google has unveiled a partnership with scientists using advanced remote sensing technology to rapidly analyze and map forest cover in extremely high resolution. The effort could help countries detect deforestation shortly after it occurs making it easier to prevent further forest clearing.


Brazil allocates first funds under plan to save the Amazon

(12/10/2009) Brazil's development bank BNDES has announced the first five recipients of grants under the South American country's ambitious Amazon Fund, which aims to reduce deforestation by 70 percent over the next decade.


Brazilian tribe owns carbon rights to Amazon rainforest land

(12/09/2009) A rainforest tribe fighting to save their territory from loggers owns the carbon-trading rights to their land, according to a legal opinion released today by Baker & McKenzie, one of the world’s largest law firms. The opinion, which was commissioned by Forest Trends, a Washington, D.C.-based forest conservation group, could boost the efforts of indigenous groups seeking compensation for preserving forest on their lands, effectively paving the way for large-scale indigenous-led conservation of the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous people control more than a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon.


Ethnographic maps built using cutting-edge technology may help Amazon tribes win forest carbon payments

(11/29/2009) A new handbook lays out the methodology for cultural mapping, providing indigenous groups with a powerful tool for defending their land and culture, while enabling them to benefit from some 21st century advancements. Cultural mapping may also facilitate indigenous efforts to win recognition and compensation under a proposed scheme to mitigate climate change through forest conservation. The scheme—known as REDD for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation—will be a central topic of discussion at next month's climate talks in Copenhagen, but concerns remain that it could fail to deliver benefits to forest dwellers.


Google – the new eye in the sky for protecting forests?

(11/22/2009) Google looks set to play a part in a called-for "new environmental world order" by satellite-monitoring the rates of deforestation of tropical rainforests and pinpointing illegal logging and land misuse, Google’s Northern and Central Europe head Philipp Schindler has revealed. Schindler made the announcement in London on November 19 at a meeting at St James's Palace hosted by the Prince's Rainforests Project about a new climate change reduction mechanism, REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). An inter-governmental report produced this month by an Informal Working Group (IWG) for Interim Funding of REDD has outlined an initiative to save the CO2 equivalent of the annual emissions of the US over five years by rewarding developing countries for reducing deforestation, with payments on a performance basis.


Google partners with Amazon tribe

(10/29/2009) The story of an indigenous Amazon tribe that has embraced technology in its fight to protect its homeland and culture is now highlighted as a layer in Google Earth.


Emissions from cerrado destruction in Brazil equal to emissions from Amazon deforestation

(09/15/2009) Damage to Brazil's vast cerrado grassland results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by destruction of the Amazon rainforest, said Carlos Minc, the country's Environment Minister.


Brazil to step up efforts to save the cerrado grassland

(09/11/2009) Brazil will try to reduce deforestation of the cerrado, a wooded grassland ecosystem in Brazil that is being destroyed twice as fast as the Amazon rainforest, according to the country's Environment Minister Carlos Minc.


Concerns over deforestation may drive new approach to cattle ranching in the Amazon

(09/08/2009) While you're browsing the mall for running shoes, the Amazon rainforest is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Perhaps it shouldn't be. The globalization of commodity supply chains has created links between consumer products and distant ecosystems like the Amazon. Shoes sold in downtown Manhattan may have been assembled in Vietnam using leather supplied from a Brazilian processor that subcontracted to a rancher in the Amazon. But while demand for these products is currently driving environmental degradation, this connection may also hold the key to slowing the destruction of Earth's largest rainforest.


20% of land deforested in the Brazilian Amazon is regrowing forest

(09/06/2009) At least 20 percent land deforested in the Brazilian Amazon is regrowing forest, reports Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).


Is El Niño back?

(07/28/2009) Ocean temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific have shifted into El Niño conditions, increasing the likelihood of anomalously dry conditions in Southeast Asia and other unusual weather patterns, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.


NASA photos show severe flooding in the Amazon

(07/22/2009) Photos released by NASA highlight last month's severe flooding of the Amazon River near the Brazilian city of Manaus.


Global ocean temperatures at warmest level since 1880

(07/21/2009) Global ocean temperatures rose to the warmest on record, according to data released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The combined average global land and ocean surface temperature for June was second-warmest since global recording-keeping began in 1880. NOAA also reported a return of el Niño, raising the prospect of dryness—and risk of forest fires—in Southeast Asia.


Brazil's development bank to require beef-tracking system to avoid illegal Amazon deforestation

(07/01/2009) Responding to allegations that major Brazilian cattle producers are responsible for illegal forest clearing in the Amazon, Brazil's development bank BNDES will soon require processors to trace the origin of beef back to the ranch where it was produced in order to qualify for loans, reports Brazil's Agencia Estado. The traceability program aims to ensure that cattle products do not come from illegally deforested land.


NASA satellite photos reveal Yellowstone's recovery from fires

(06/30/2009) Satellite images released by NASA show a gradual recovery of forests affected by massive fires during the summer of 1988 in Yellowstone National Park. Fires during that hot and dry summer burned nearly 36 percent of the park — some 793,000 of the park's 2,221,800 acres.


NASA images show huge drop in Amazon fires in 2008

(06/30/2009) New NASA research shows a sharp decline in the amount of smoke over the Amazon during the 2008 burning season, coinciding with a drop in deforestation reported last week by Carlos Minc, Brazil's Environment Minister. Analyzing the aerosol concentrations over the Amazon each September from the past four burning seasons using the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Aura satellite, atmospheric scientist Omar Torres of Hampton University and several colleagues found a dramatic decline in airborne particular matter in 2008, indicating reduced incidence of fire in the region. Fire in the Amazon is primarily used by humans for land-clearing to establish cattle pasture, which now accounts for the vast majority of land-use change in the world's largest rainforest.


Rainforest discovered via Google Earth to be protected

(06/29/2009) Mozambique has agreed to protect a tract of highland forest discovered by scientists using Google Earth, reports The Guardian.


Brazilian cattle giant declares moratorium on Amazon deforestation

(06/25/2009) Marfrig, the world's fourth largest beef trader, will no longer buy cattle raised in newly deforested areas within the Brazilian Amazon, reports Greenpeace. The announcement is a direct response to Greenpeace's Slaughtering the Amazon report, which linked illegal Amazon forest clearing to the cattle producers that supply raw materials to some of the world's most prominent consumer products companies. Marfrig was one several cattle firms named in the investigative report.


NASA photos reveal destruction of 99% of rainforest park in Rwanda

(06/09/2009) Satellite images released by NASA show nearly complete destruction of Rwanda's Gishwati Forest between 1986 and 2001. Deforestation of the forest reserve is largely the result of subsistence harvesting and cultivation by refugees in the aftermath of the country's 1994 genocide. Overall only 600 hectares of Gishwati's original 100,000 hectares of forest remain, a loss of 99.4 percent.


Destruction of Brazil's most imperiled rainforest continues

(05/31/2009) More than 100,000 hectares of Brazil's most threatened ecosystem was cleared between 2005 and 2008, reports a study by the Fundação SOS Mata Atlãntica and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The "Atlas of Mata Atlântica Remnants", released May 26, assessed the extent of the Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) across 10 of the 17 states where the coastal rainforest occurs. It found that an 102,938 hectares were destroyed during the three year period. The annual loss of 34,121 hectares per year was 2.4 percent lower than the 34,965 ha recorded from the 2000-2005 period.


How satellites are used in conservation

(04/13/2009) In October 2008 scientists with the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew discovered a host of previously unknown species in a remote highland forest in Mozambique. The find was no accident: three years earlier, conservationist Julian Bayliss identified the site—Mount Mabu—using Google Earth, a tool that’s rapidly becoming a critical part of conservation efforts around the world. As the discovery in Mozambique suggests, remote sensing is being used for a bewildering array of applications, from monitoring sea ice to detecting deforestation to tracking wildlife. The number of uses grows as the technology matures and becomes more widely available. Google Earth may represent a critical point, bringing the power of remote sensing to the masses and allowing anyone with an Internet connection to attach data to a geographic representation of Earth.


Development of Google Earth a watershed moment for the environment

(03/31/2009) Satellites have long been used to detect and monitor environmental change, but capabilities have vastly improved since the early 1970s when Landsat images were first revealed to the public. Today Google Earth has democratized the availability of satellite imagery, putting high resolution images of the planet within reach of anyone with access to the Internet. In the process, Google Earth has emerged as potent tool for conservation, allowing scientists, activists, and even the general public to create compelling presentations that reach and engage the masses. One of the more prolific developers of Google Earth conservation applications is David Tryse. Neither a scientist nor a formal conservationist, Tryse's concern for the welfare of the planet led him develop a KML for the Zoological Society of London's EDGE of Existence program, an initiative to promote awareness of and generating conservation funding for 100 of the world's rarest species. The KML allows people to surf the planet to see photos of endangered species, information about their habitat, and the threats they face. Tryse has since developed a deforestation tracking application, a KML that highlights hydroelectric threats to Borneo’s rivers, and oil spills and is working on a new tool that will make it even easier for people to create visualizations on Google Earth. Tryse believes the development of Google Earth is a watershed moment for conservation and the environmental movement.


Deforestation maps for Sumatra now available on Google Earth

(03/31/2009) Despite many years of research in conservation biology, precise maps of tropical deforestation that document the global spatial extent of tropical forests destruction are generally not available outside of the scientific community, says David Gaveau a researcher from Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) points out. For nearly seven years, Gaveau has been documenting forest destruction on the entire island of Sumatra since early 1970s using satellite technology, and he has found the way to make his full-resolution maps and scientific results public using Google Earth.


Advancements in satellite technology will help scientists and policy makers map and monitor forest carbon

(03/29/2009) Given that deforestation accounts for nearly one fifth of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, reducing forest clearing and degradation is increasingly seen as an critical component to any framework addressing climate change. By some estimates, a mechanism that compensates countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) could funnel billions of dollars per year towards forest conservation. However the effectiveness of such a mechanism will hinge on the quality of data. Effective mapping and monitoring of forest carbon stores is absolutely key to any mechanism that compensates countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.


37,000 sq km of Amazon rainforest destroyed or damaged in 2008

(03/19/2009) Logging and fires damaged nearly 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles) of Amazon rainforest in the August 2007-July 2008 period, an increase of 67 percent over the prior year period, according to a new mapping system developed by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The damage comes on top of the nearly 12,000 sq km (4,600 sq mi) of rainforest that was cleared during the year.


Carbon dioxide monitoring satellite crashes immediately after launch

(02/24/2009) The Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a $273 million satellite that would have collected measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere to help better forecast the climate impacts of changes in CO2 levels, crashed about three minutes after launch, reports NASA. Researchers say the accident is a major setback for science.


Google Earth now allows ocean exploration, tracking of sharks

(02/05/2009) Google Earth now allows users to dive beneath the surface of the world's oceans to see coral reefs, trenches, and other marine wonders. The new version, Google Earth 5, includes layers showing locations of shipwrecks and surf spots; routes for ocean expeditions; the movements of GPS-tracked sea animals; and information (including videos and images) about the ocean environment from sources including National Geographic, the Cousteau Society, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Camera trap photos reveal bushmeat hunting threat to jaguars in Ecuador

(01/27/2009) Jaguars are the largest cats of the Americas and third largest cats in the world. The primary rainforest in the Amazon region of Ecuador is among their last remaining strongholds. Jaguars are listed as “vulnerable” in Ecuador, and Santiago Espinosa, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) fellow, PhD candidate from University of Florida/Gainesville, and WWF fellow, wants to know just how many jaguars are left in his home country. He is developing strategies to protect them by determining their numbers and the factors that threaten them through a unique method of non-invasive photography.


New global temperature record expected in the next 1-2 years

(01/27/2009) 2008 was the coolest year since 2000 but still ranks in the top ten warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880, reported NASA last week.


Photos: Google Earth used to find new species

(12/22/2008) Scientists have used Google Earth to find a previously unknown trove of biological diversity in Mozambique, reports the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Scouring satellite images via Google Earth for potential conservation sites at elevations of 1600 meters or more, Julian Bayliss a locally-based conservationist, in 2005 spotted a 7,000-hectare tract of forest on Mount Mabu. The scientifically unexplored forest had previously only been known to villagers. Subsequent expeditions in October and November this year turned up hundreds of species of plants and animals, including some that are new to science.



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