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Building a forestry processing platform ready for the Copernicus age

The pre-operational Forestry Thematic Exploitation Platform (F-TEP) is now live. F-TEP has been created to provide an online data processing and dissemination resource for the forestry community that enables benefit to be derived from the volume shift in data in the Copernicus age.

Introduction

With the very large volumes of Earth Observation (EO) data now being provided from the multiple Sentinel missions and other satellites (in the order of Terabytes per day), the limitations for effective science and value adding business are becoming less about lack of data, and more about using effective tools and resources to find, process and analyse the data. Such large data volumes mean that longer download times, larger storage devices, advanced processors and high powered computing are all needed to help maximize the information that can be extracted.

The ESA TEP programme

In 2015, the European Space Agency (ESA) has helped users by commissioning a series of Thematic Exploitation Platforms (TEPs), intended to be online facilities for the searching and processing of large volumes of EO data. There are currently 7 TEPs, each of which is focused on a different thematic area (Forestry, Urban, Coastal, Hydrology, Polar, Geohazards and Food Security). All of the TEPs are based on the concept of providing online data access and processing tools for EO data exploitation that is accessible via an easy to use web portal. The ultimate aim is to reduce or remove technical or computational limitations for effective data exploitation by a wide variety of users.

A key goal of the TEPs is to provide a means to move away from each user working in their own ‘silo’ to a more common environment. Users no longer need to download and process data on their own hardware, instead the processing is done on the TEP utilizing the computational resources the TEP can access. The collaborative nature of the TEPs also allows users to keep up to date with, and share knowledge about, data and processing techniques with the wider community in their thematic area. This includes the ability of TEP users to create and share their own processing tools and algorithms. TEPs can also help to reduce the difficulties of data procurement, by providing access to processing for miscellaneous data sources through a single online portal.

Forestry-TEP: a user-driven processing platform for forestry users

The F-TEP has been developed and deployed by an international consortium led by VTT of Finland. Partners include CGI and STFC from the UK, Spacebel from Belgium and Arbonaut from Finland.
The F-TEP portal provides a self-service environment in which users can undertake a number of key activities including:

  • Search for a variety of EO and reference data relevant for Forestry-related activities, including Sentinel and Landsat data. Users can also upload their own reference data and search for forestry data products processed by other users.
  • Process EO and reference data using a variety of processing services to create various forestry products such as land cover maps, biomass estimations, species analyses and track deforestation. During the current pre-operations phase this includes access to propriety software such as VTT’s Autochange.
  • Create, test and share new forestry-focused processing services.
  • Share products, processors and reference data with peers and the wider forestry community.
  • Analyse EO data, derived products and reference data within the F-TEP platform using a variety of EO applications including the Sentinel Toolbox (SNAP), QGIS and Monteverdi.

To provide such functionality in a cost-effective manner that can be scalable F-TEP needs to deliver a smart ICT-based solution. To ensure efficient processing of large data volumes modern container-based technologies such as Docker™ are an integral part of F-TEP. Openness and integration are also key aspects of the solution, enabled with the use of Open Source Software and adherence to standards such as OGC Web Services. This will help ensure that future collaboration across TEPs and other platforms is possible.

Current status of F-TEP

F-TEP is currently in the pre-operations phase and accessible to all users. It is the second of the 7 TEPs to reach pre-operations. During this phase users are encouraged to explore and use the platform and a number of key pilot projects are being run. These include:
• Mexico (Chiapas & Durango states), with a focus on utilization of Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 forest cover mapping for the REDD+ program. This includes developing methods to support forest management in Durango.
• Finland (Finnish Forestry Centre), with a focus on mapping degree of shrub damage on regeneration areas using Sentinel-2 data.
Other uses of F-TEP currently being evaluated or envisaged are land cover and forest mapping at a regional or national scale, change detection, biomass estimations and regeneration.

The future

F-TEP will come to the end of its pre-operations phase in the first half of 2018. It is intended that the platform capabilities will continue to be available thereafter as commercial services on a pay-per-use basis

Contacts
Tuomas Häme – VTT Project Lead for F-TEP (Tuomas.Hame@vtt.fi)
Clive Farquhar – CGI Project Manager for F-TEP (clive.farquhar@cgi.com)