Forest Monitoring

Forests, which occupy approximately 40% of the global land surface, are the dominant terrestrial ecosystem of the Earth. Deforestation, mainly the conversion of forest land to agricultural land, continues to be a major land cover change process, particularly in the tropics.

The challenges in forest monitoring include:

  • accurate mapping of forest cover extent
  • monitoring of deforestation and forest degradation
  • quantifying forest biomass
  • determining forest primary productivity
  • calculating forest carbon balance
  • forest peatlands
  • forest type
  • classifying forest species
  • monitoring forest fires
  • performing natural forest inventories
  • REDD (Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation)

The ongoing outburst of new satellite data sources presents new opportunities for forest monitoring, with satellites of many types producing increasingly massive amounts of data daily. Particularly interesting for the global forestry community are the optical and radar instruments onboard the Sentinel satellites that provide global data with high acquisition frequency free of charge. They form a key element of the seven-billion euro European Earth Observation (EO) programme Copernicus.

Copernicus and other international and national Earth Observation (EO) programmes offer an unprecedented opportunity to monitor forest ecosystems from space. The data from the Copernicus programme are available free of charge. The advanced space borne monitoring systems provide huge amounts of data. For instance, each single 100 x 100 km2 tile from the Copernicus’ Sentinel-2 satellite requires data transfer and disk space of approximately 600 MB, hence imagery for a region or country can be multiple gigabytes. It is clear that new approaches to tackle such vast data volumes are needed to fully utilize the potential of these new monitoring systems.