Dispatches from GEO XIII: Making Vanishing Forests Visible

EarthzineGEO/GEOSS News, Original

Regional remote sensing has the capacity to support conservation initiatives at a local level. Partnerships such as those established through GEO can help.

Dr. Alberto Yanosky presents at the on event on conservation and remote sensing. Image Credit: Earthzine.

Dr. Alberto Yanosky presents at the event on conservation and remote sensing. Image Credit: Earthzine

The Chaco Dry Forest in South America is losing habitat at a rate of roughly 1,500 hectares a day. This land clearing is driven by the profitability of soy and beef, and although some forest conversion is carried out illegally within the bounds of protected areas, other conversion takes place on privately sanctioned land. Either way, Dr. Alberto Yanosky of the institution Guyra Paraguay is seeking to help make those changes in land use more visible. In doing so, he offers just one example of how remote sensing on a regional scale can be used to help promote conservation on a local level.
As presenter at Monday’s GEO XIII side session “Conservation Actions Aided by Satellite Remote Sensing,” Yanosky explained the challenges and benefits of using satellite data to help make Paraguay’s vanishing forests visible. Using Landsat images, Guyra processes this information to track land use change. The data are then put into visualizations, such as the interactive maps shared through Global Forest Watch.
Constantly under scrutiny by soy farmers and cattle ranchers, Guyra is under pressure to consistently produce accurate maps or risk losing credibility. There is also a positive incentive to produce accurate representations of forest loss: These informational tools can in turn be used to monitor land use change, support implementation of conservation, and guide government actions.
For example, identifying which biodiverse areas are most at risk of degradation can help to target areas most in need of rapid protection.
The work Guyra does is supported by collaborations that range from interactions with local community members, including small farmers and indigenous peoples, to cooperation with the national government, and partnerships with international organizations and initiatives like the World Resources Institute (WRI) and REDD+.
This is where the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) comes in.  Groups like Guyra bring to GEO their observations, monitoring data, and on-the-ground experience in working with data users. In return, GEO provides an international framework for sharing that information and the opportunity to connect with others conducting similar or related work.

A snapshot of Paraguay from Global Forest Watch

A snapshot of Paraguay from Global Forest Watch

At the side event where Yanosky and his colleague shared their work in Paraguay, his presentation sparked conversation that led to the establishment of new connections between individuals, recommendations for locating high resolution data sets, and discussion about challenges facing mandated protection of forests in areas where land ownership is largely private.
Forest ecosystems are still being degraded at numerous locations around the globe each day. At the same time, advancements continue to be made in data processing and remote sensing technologies. Yanosky suggests that using these technologies to highlight the patterns of land use change can be used to help address roots and consequences of those changes in an informed way.
Elise Mulder Osenga is IEEE Earthzine’s senior science writer. She is in St. Petersburg, Russia, covering GEO-XIII.