Airbus Defence and Space

Satellites go REDD for the green deal

Space technology to combat deforestation


If the world is to achieve the goal of preventing a global temperature rise of more than 2°C, which scientific consensus holds as the threshold for a ‘potentially dangerous climate’, then a report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in November makes grim reading.

It says that emissions into the atmosphere of heat-trapping carbon gases have escalated by record amounts, and time is running to put the planet on a low-carbon footing.

Global warming above this so-called ‘safe’ rate would cause sea levels to rise, runaway meteorological conditions, droughts, mass migrations, food shortages due to the impact on agriculture, aggravation of epidemics – to name but a few.

Against this backdrop, the need to safeguard the Earth’s forests is even more pressing. Living forests are a central part of the natural eco-system (regulating the hydrological cycle, stabilising soils, purifying the air and providing a habitat for countless numbers of animals, birds and insects). And they moderate climate by soaking up carbon dioxide. Kill them – deforestation is currently happening at a ferocious pace – and they release all that guzzled carbon, contributing on a gargantuan scale to the problem of global warming.

Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery to help protect forests © CNES/Distribution Airbus Defence and Space-Spot Image

Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery to help protect forests © CNES/Distribution Airbus Defence and Space-Spot Image

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) is the UN mechanism to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. Satellite imagery and geo-information solutions are vital tools for establishing up-to-date cartography and accurate, irrefutable measurements to monitor change in forests and evaluate the effectiveness of REDD programmes, and to provide meaningful carbon models. Airbus Defence and Space’s GEO-Information division is leading the field, designing and implementing rapid-response services, processes and systems adapted to the specific issues prevalent in different areas around the world.

Amazon: Monitoring for practical enforcement response

The Amazon rainforest is the largest remaining rainforest on the globe, stretching across 7.8 million km2, with over 60% lying within the borders of Brazil. Almost half of all known species live in the Amazon, and it contains around 20% of the Earth’s fresh water. And it accounts for 50% of the deforestation worldwide, with up to 80% of logging activities in the Brazilian Amazon illegal.

Airbus Defence and Space GEO-Information has been working for a number of years with Brazilian NGO research institution IMAZON in two of the most sensitive regions of the country, the states of Mato Grosso and Acre.

In Mato Grosso, the objective was to get a grasp of the historical evolution of changes and degradation of the rainforest in order to assess the trends in carbon gas emissions; this is known as the ‘reference situation’, or baseline, the establishment of which for given regions or countries is one of the key elements of the REDD framework. Airbus Defence and Space’s solution was to develop a unique image processing suite ad methodology, collect and re-process the large volume of archived Landsat satellite images of the 600,000 km2 of the Mato Grosso forest dating back to the 1980s. From this reference information bank experts could then perform a quantitative analysis of carbon emissions for the zone over a 25-year period to the present day. The efficacy of this approach is impressive – 650 Landsat images were processed and analysed in under two months, demonstrating a system that can be deployed rapidly to ensure permanent standards for monitoring deforestation status and trends. This new Airbus Defence and Space–IMAZON tool was presented at the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen where it was approved by the international scientific community.

Living forests provide a habitat for countless numbers of animals, birds and insectsIn Acre, the problem was that the time lag between the acquiring of aerial photos of the region and the delivery of deforestation maps and statistics derived from them was just too great – at an interval of several months – to allow the local authorities to be able to intervene effectively to prevent illicit logging at the time and place it was happening.

Called upon by IMAZON, Airbus Defence and Space’s GEO-Information division swung into action. First, the Airbus Defence and Space-built FORMOSAT-2 satellite was tasked to image areas of interest at predefined times. Using a special web interface, MyFORMOSAT-2, a daily satellite revisit plan was defined, and high-resolution FORMOSAT-2 imagery was then acquired and generated in real time to monitor the area. In all, 1,160 images were acquired and generated between mid-August and end October 2007, orthorectified and imported into a GIS. Existing deforestation maps which IMAZON had produced in 2005 and 2006 were draped over the images to highlight and then digitise the subsequently cleared tracts of forest – the FORMOSAT-2 surveys identified tracts being cleared at the time of acquisition.

With this customised tool, IMAZON can produce up-to-date maps in a matter days and deliver them to Acre’s environmental agency and other NGOs to support field operations planning. IMAZON Executive Director Carlos Souza is delighted: “With MyFORMOSAT-2, we have changed our way of working. Before we needed several months to draw up the maps; we just reported the destruction of the forest. But now we can send information very quickly and the Brazilian authorities can catch the woodcutters red-handed!”

Congo Basin: Logging on, logging off

Airbus Defence and Space, via its GEO-Information business, and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD)provide satellite imagery of the forests in the Congo Basin to organizations working to conserve the region’s forests.

Airbus Defence and Space, via its GEO-Information business, and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) provide satellite imagery of the forests in the Congo Basin to organisations working to conserve the region’s forests.  © CNES/Distribution Airbus Defence and Space-Spot Image

Also during the 2009 Climate Change Conference, Airbus Defence and Space, in partnership with the French Development Agency (AFD), pledged to apply expertise and technologies to support deforestation measures in the world’s second largest equatorial forest, the Congo Basin, where forest elephants, great apes and rampant logging activities run free. The result is the first ever portal to provide satellite imagery of the Congo Basin forests to bodies working to conserve the region’s forests. The first 600 images of the region taken by Airbus Defence and Space’s high-performance, prolific Spot satellites are now directly accessible.REDDSPOT portal

By comparing archive imagery against new images it will now possible to track changes in the Congo Basin’s forest cover. Administrations, public institutions and NGOs working on sustainable forest governance in the region will be using the images and the accompanying value-added services to more effectively monitor land use – a key to the sustainable management of the forests in Central Africa. The data is also crucial for measuring the effectiveness of national strategies and defining plans of action as part of the REDD+ programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).

The Spot satellite images of the Congo Basin are available to all organisations working on forest preservation projects that specifically focus on reducing emissions resulting from deforestation or forest degradation, preserving or increasing forest carbon storage, or promoting sustainable forest governance.




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