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Nature journal: Choose satellites to monitor deforestation

More than one billion people are dependent on forests for their livelihood and forests play a vital role in regulating our climate. Forests are under threat from degradation caused by expanding agriculture and illegal logging, which costs governments $10 billion a year in lost revenues. Protecting forests is a global priority and the subject of the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP-19).

REDD+, the UN’s programme to reduce carbon emissions from forest degradation, aims to do just that but requires accurate, regular and reliable information about the World’s forests in order to succeed. Satellites are the only way to accurately and regularly monitor the vast areas involved– the tropics alone make up half of the Earth’s land area, and many areas cannot be reached on foot.

DMCii’s Director of Forestry, Jim Lynch, speaks in April’s Nature science journal about the need for a new system of satellites to monitor forest degradation as part of the REDD+ programme. The article, ‘Choose satellites to monitor deforestation’ was written with Sir Martin Sweeting, Director of the Surrey Space Centre and Executive Chairman of DMCii, Professor Heiko Balzter from the University of Leicester and Professor Mark Maslin from University College London.

The authors argue that current mapping strategies are too slow and sparse, often taking the form of annual audits that fail to provide the timely information needed. They recommend two Earth Observation systems to supply the resolutions and timescales required to create an early warning system that will empower authorities with the information they need to tackle illegal logging as it happens and curb deforestation:

  • A constellation of five tropical orbiting radar satellites (such as the UK’s low-cost NovaSAR) that would provide daily monitoring through cloud – common in the tropics – and darkness.
  • The operation of a network of optical satellites (including existing ones like Landsat and the DMCii-operated DMC constellation) to carry out weekly or monthly monitoring of forests to detect seasonal changes to carbon stocks.

To read the article visit the Nature website