A team of researchers has developed the first ever "near real-time" monitoring system for tracking deforestation across all of South America. The new system, called Terra-i, is being launched to coincide with the Rio+20 UN environment conference.
Terra-i was developed to monitor the changes in land cover every 16 days, and covering quadrants as small as every 250 meters, in order to help conservation organizations and governments track trends in deforestation from logging and other human activities.
"The system is based on the premise that natural vegetation follows a predictable pattern of changes in greenness from one date to the next brought about by site-specific land and climatic conditions over the same period. A so-called computational neural network is ‘trained’ to understand the normal pattern of changes in vegetation greenness in relation to terrain and rainfall for a site and then marks areas as changed where the greenness suddenly changes well beyond these normal limits." - Terra-i
The Terra-i system uses data from NASA's MODIS sensors carried by their Terra (EOS AM) and Aqua (EOS PM) satellites. Brazil has already been using a near real-time deforestation monitoring system since 2008, but the Terra-i system is the first to cover an entire continent, and could be expanded to cover the whole globe.
Preliminary data from the Terra-i system shows that in some areas, Caquetá, Colombia for example, deforestation has grown 340% since 2004, and in areas in Chiribiquete National Park by 196% between 2010 and 2011. Using tools such as the Terra-i could help governments and organizations make better decisions for a more sustainable world.
"As we approach Rio+20 where the world will define the targets that will guide us along the road to a more sustainable development, it is critical that we deploy the appropriate tools to carefully monitor and manage our landscapes. We need to ensure that we maintain enough farmland to feed the nine billion people to come, but we must also have protected natural landscapes that provide clean water, a stable climate, a refuge for biodiversity and space for increasingly urbanised populations to experience and appreciate the wonders of nature." - Dr Mark Mulligan, Department of Geography at King’s College London
The monitoring system was developed by a team led by Dr Mulligan at King's College, with collaboration from researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, The Nature Conservancy, and the School of Engineering and Management of Vaud in Switzerland.