A remote sensing image of Yellowstone National Park, regarded by many as the world’s first national park. WCS, NASA, And other conservation and remote sensing agencies, universities and NGOs are focusing on the top 10 conservation questions for satellite technology, including the monitoring of protected areas from space. Photo by: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.
Remote sensing has changed the way we see our planet. And it has the power to change how we do conservation work, according to a new paper in Conservation Biology. Written by 32 scientists from organizations as diverse as NASA and the Jane Goodall Institute, the paper highlights ten areas where conservation efforts could benefit from remote sensing data.
“Remote sensing data from orbiting satellites have been used to measure, understand, and predict environmental changes since the 1970s, but technology that subsequently became available can now be applied much more widely on a whole range of conservation issues,” explained lead author, Robert Rose, with the Wildlife Conservation Society. “To that end, we sought out the top thought leaders in conservation and the remote sensing community to identify the best conservation applications of these data.”
To better facilitate work between conservation scientists and remote sensing researchers, the groups have recently launched, the Conservation Remote Sensing Network (CRSNet).
“The mission of the CRSNet is to increase conservation effectiveness through enhanced integration of remote sensing in research and applications,” the researchers write.
In the paper, the researchers identified ten themes—initially posited as questions—where remote sensing data could be used and expanded to increase conservation efforts in a world threatened with mass extinction and massive ecological changes due to global warming, ocean acidification, and habitat destruction.
Ten conservation priorities for remote sensing data
- 1. Species distribution and abundances: data from satellites can help outline species distribution due to looking at habitat health and ecosystem change, however final spatial data and wider coverage with multispectral sensors (known as MODIS) on satellites could much improve current knowledge.
- 2. Species movements and life stages: remote sensing can help understand changes in species movements by looking at shifts in land use that could impact migrations. Increased data could also be gathered to understand smaller, more frequent movements.
- 3. Ecosystem processes: data from satellites can help understand how ecosystems respond to various stressors, from nitrogen pollution to ocean acidification. High resolution and frequent data could also help scientists better comprehend how ecosystems respond to extreme weather.
- 4. Climate change: long-term data on climate change can conservationists both view how global warming is impacting species and ecosystems, as well as identify conservation priorities in a warming world.
- 5. Rapid response: near real-time data from satellites can help conservationists and governments react quickly to threats such as oil spills, illegal logging and mining, human-started fires, and even coral bleaching events. Greater access to data could improve how quickly officials are able to acting.
- 6. Protected areas: remote sensing can help design better protected areas, looking more holistically at how to manage land inside and outside parks in order to better achieve conservation goals.
- 7. Ecosystem services: data from satellites can help Payments for Ecosystem Service programs, such as REDD+, monitor their outcomes and overall ability in protecting ecosystem services.
- 8. Conservation effectiveness: increased use of remote sensing data can help conservationists monitor the success of new initiatives and the efficacy of protected areas.
- 9. Agricultural/aquaculture expansion and changes in land use/cover: remote sensing can help identify where agriculture is expanding and intensifying in order to understand how this may impact conservation work. But the paper also calls for more frequent high-resolution data to better track both agriculture and aquaculture trends.
- 10. Degradation and disturbance regimes: many changes to ecosystems are not detectable by simply looking at shifts in land cover, but combining remote sensing data with other technologies and other types of data—such as field visits—could help piece together less visible changes.
- ROSE, ROBERT A., DIRCK BYLER, J. EASTMAN, ERICA FLEISHMAN, GARY GELLER, SCOTT GOETZ, LIANE GUILD et al. “Ten Ways Remote Sensing Can Contribute to Conservation.” Conservation Biology (2014).
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