Space technology that helps fight deforestation Shoot lasers at trees to fight deforestation

The Congo River and surrounding forests

Conservationist Leonidas Nzigiyimpa says “you can’t handle what you don’t know.”

And he adds: “To improve the situation of the forests, we need to use new technologies.”

Mr. Nzigiyimpa is the lead guardian of five protected forest areas in the small central African country of Burundi.

For the past two decades, he and his team have been working with local communities to protect and manage the forest. His face lights up as he describes the fresh smell and beauty of the areas. “It’s pure nature,” he says.

In carrying out his job, Mr. Nzigiyimpa has to consider a variety of factors, from monitoring the impact of human actions and economies to tracking biodiversity and the impact of climate change, as well as staff numbers and budgets. .

Conservationist Leonidas Nzigiyimpa

Conservationist Leonidas Nzigiyimpa has won international awards for his work

To help you track and record all of this, it now uses the latest version of free software called Integrated Management Effectiveness Tool.

The tool was developed specifically for this environmental work by a project called Biopama (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Program). This has the support of both the European Union and the 79 member states of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

“So we use this type of tool to train site administrators to use it to collect good data and analyze this data to make good decisions,” says Mr. Nzigiyimpa.

Monitoring and protecting the world’s forests is not only important for the local communities and economies most directly affected. Deforestation contributes to climate change, so restoring forests could help combat it.

Some 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of the world’s forests are lost each year, according to the United Nations.

This deforestation represents 20% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which adds that “by reducing forest loss, we can reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.”

To try to restore forests and other natural habitats around the world, the United Nations last year launched the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. This has caused countries, companies and other organizations to promise actions to prevent, stop and reverse the degradation of ecosystems around the world.

“But just saying we are going to restore is not enough,” says Yelena Finegold, a forestry officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “There is a need for responsible planning for how ecosystem restoration will take place, followed by actions on the ground enabled by restoration investments and monitoring systems in place to track that ecosystem restoration.”

yelena fine gold

Yelena Finegold says the goal is to track deforestation and reverse it

This increased focus on forest management has given rise to new digital tools to better collect, classify and use data.

One of these is FAO’s own Ecosystem Monitoring Framework (Ferm) website. The site launched last year and uses satellite imagery to highlight changes in forests around the world. The maps and data are accessible to any Internet user, be they a scientist, a government official, a business, or a member of the public.

A key data source for Ferm is the US space agency Nasa and its Global Ecosystem Dynamics Research system. Known as Gedi for short, this acronym is pronounced like the Jedi word from the Star Wars movies. And continuing the theme of that series of films, his motto is “may the forest be with you.”

The technology itself is certainly very science fiction turned real life. “We fire lasers at trees from the International Space Station,” says Laura Duncanson, who helps lead the Gedi project at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographic Sciences.

The International Space Station

NASA’s Gedi system fires lasers from the International Space Station

“We use the reflected energy to map forests in 3D, including their height, canopy density and carbon content,” adds Dr Duncanson, a leading remote sensing expert. “This is an exciting new technology because for decades we have been able to observe deforestation from space, but now with Gedi we can map the carbon emissions associated with forest loss. [for greater accuracy].”

Ferm also receives maps and data from the Norwegian company Planet Labs, which operates more than 200 satellites equipped with cameras. These take some 350 million photos of the Earth’s surface daily, each covering an area of ​​one square kilometer.

Planet Labs can also be contracted directly by governments and companies around the world. In addition to monitoring forests, its cameras can be used to check on everything from droughts to agriculture, energy and infrastructure projects, and monitor key infrastructure such as ports.

Remi D’Annunzio, a forestry fellow at FAO, says that all the images available from space “have tremendously changed the way we monitor forests, because they have produced extremely repeatable observations and extremely frequent site reviews.”

He adds: “Basically now, with all these publicly available satellites combined, we can get a complete snapshot of the Earth every four or five days.”

Rangers in Vietnam

Rangers in Vietnam are now using Ferm data to tackle illegal logging

Examples of how all this near real-time monitoring is being used through Ferm are the pilot schemes in Vietnam and Laos that are trying to tackle illegal logging. Rangers and community field workers receive alerts on their mobile phones when new deforestation is detected.

“Now what we’re really trying to do is not just understand the volume of forest that’s being lost, but where specifically it’s being lost in this district or that district, so that we can monitor the loss and even prevent it almost in reality.” . weather, it gets worse,” says Akiko Inoguchi, FAO forestry officer.

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