Conservation news

Monitoring tropical deforestation is now free and easy

Deforestation for soy in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Deforestation for soy in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

  • Thanks to Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment and the satellite monitoring group Planet, anyone with an internet connection can now view monthly updates of high-resolution satellite imagery of tropical forests for free.
  • At 5-meter (16-foot) resolution, the imagery allows users to see the removal of individual trees and makes it easier to determine the causes of deforestation.
  • The high-resolution, high-frequency imagery is especially powerful when combined with early-warning forest loss alerts such as the GLAD alerts visualized on the Global Forest Watch platform.
  • The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) plans to use this new imagery to enhance its real-time monitoring program, quickly detecting and confirming deforestation in the Amazon to inform its partners in the field. MAAP provides several examples of the new technology in action.

Thanks to the rollout of free, high-resolution satellite imagery, the job of monitoring deforestation in tropical forests just got a lot easier.

Last year Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment entered into a contract with three well-established satellite monitoring technology groups: Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT), Airbus and Planet.

Planet uses satellites to capture images of the Earth on a daily basis. The best images from a given month are stitched together into a seamless, cloudless, mosaic. These monthly mosaics give users a clear picture of where deforestation is happening and how it has progressed over time.

Now, anyone with an internet connection can view these mosaic images via the Global Forest Watch (GFW) website. Tech-savvy users can also download data directly from Planet for research or to create their own maps.

Global map showing the extent of monthly Planet Basemaps now available under Norway’s Ministry of Climate and Environment contract. Image courtesy of Planet Labs Inc.

“At 5-meter [16-foot] resolution, we can see the removal of individual trees and get a much better sense of the deforestation drivers and context,” Mikaela Weisse, who leads GFW’s strategy and partnerships around satellite-based forest monitoring, told Mongabay in an email. “The high level of spatial detail makes it easier to identify what has caused the deforestation, and can also provide visually-pleasing proof of forest clearing.”

The high-resolution, high-frequency imagery is especially powerful when combined with early-warning forest loss alerts (GLAD Forest Alerts), which can be visualized on the GFW platform.

The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), for instance, plans to use the new imagery to enhance its real-time monitoring program, quickly detecting and confirming deforestation in the Amazon to inform its partners in the field.

In an example of the new system in action, MAAP detected recent forest loss alerts in an Indigenous Kichwa territory around an oil palm plantation in the Ecuadoran Amazon. Using the new 5-meter resolution base maps in the GFW platform from September through December, MAAP was able to confirm that large-scale deforestation was occurring in the area.

Forest loss alerts in the Ecuadoran Amazon visualized here on the Global Forest Watch platform. Image by GFW via MAAP.
The Ecuadoran Amazon base map from Planet for September 2020. Image by GFW via MAAP.
The Ecuadoran Amazon base map from Planet for December 2020. Image by GFW via MAAP.

“Now anyone can be like MAAP,” Matt Finer, senior research specialist and director of MAAP, told Mongabay in an email. “We had these [monitoring] capabilities because we were fortunate to have a budget and access to updated, high-res imagery, but that is a rarity … Now anyone with internet can do this.”

With the new imagery, it is now possible to monitor for small-scale changes in the forest, such as selective logging, and to monitor areas with less dense tree cover, such as the Brazilian Cerrado or African Sahel.

Monitoring tropical deforestation is more important now than ever. Since 2001, an area of primary Amazon rainforest the size of the U.K. (26.6 million hectares, or 65.8 million acres) has been deforested, according to MAAP. In 2020, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon topped 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres), the highest since 2008.

“Now we need a wide variety of actors — academic researchers, law enforcement, civil society groups, journalists and indigenous communities — to apply this data in ways that support conservation and restoration efforts,” Crystal Davis, director of Global Forest Watch, wrote on the GFW website.

“For forest monitors around the world, it feels as if we’ve just won the lottery. But we still have work to do. That’s because satellites don’t protect or restore forests. People do.”

Citation:

Finer, M., & Mamani, N. (2020). Power of freely available, high-resolution satellite imagery from Norway agreement. MAAP: 131.

Banner image of deforestation for soy in the Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough_

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