Candidate prototype to offer Enhanced Forest Monitoring #2

March 25, 2024

Forests offer a cornucopia of economic, social, and climate-related benefits. For example, they provide habitats and shelter to a plethora of animal species, they aid in the cooling down of built-up urban areas, they help reduce soil erosion, they balance soil moisture, and can even stabilise alpine slopes. And let’s not forget that without trees, there would be no paper, packaging or wood. Trees are also our greatest ally in the fight against climate change. As carbon sinks, they can remove and store vast amounts of CO2. In fact, it is estimated that forests currently hold a total carbon stock of 92.1 gigatonnes.

Unfortunately, all these benefits are currently at risk: Human activity, climate change, forest fires, extreme weather events and diseases are all causing our forests to disappear by as much as 4.7 million hectares a year.

Initiatives like the EU Forest Strategy aim to reverse this trend and improve the quantity and quality of Europe’s forests by strengthening their protection, restoration and resilience. That’s a tall order, and one that will require the support of innovative, data-driven services and solutions. Remote sensing via satellites can contribute to this goal, which is exactly what EvoLand is looking to achieve.

Continuously monitoring forests with help from the Copernicus

Remote sensing via Earth Observation (EO) satellites is an essential tool for modern-day forest monitoring because it offers time-saving and operational efficiency benefits. This accounts even more for forests in remote areas, where the use of EO satellites such as the Copernicus Sentinel fleet or Copernicus contributing missions have become a key enabler for forestry managers to efficiently execute forestry operations, and for governmental bodies to monitor environmental impacts related to forestry activities.

Satellite remote sensing makes it possible to consistently acquire information on the physical characteristics of tree covered areas from a distance and at vast scales, meaning extensive and costly on-site inspections can be reduced to a minimum. Products derived from these data such as the current CLMS services on Forests (HRL 2018 Forest or the upcoming HRL VLCC) allow users to monitor the status and changes in forest condition and coverage, providing a concrete basis from which measures can be taken to protect and sustainably manage forests in the future.

EvoLand to introduce new features of the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS)

As part of the Copernicus Earth Observation Programme, the CLMS provides free access to several services on land cover/land use to a broad range of users in the field of environmental terrestrial applications, including forests.

The EvoLand consortium is currently developing and testing a next-generation forest monitoring candidate service (C1-Continuous Forest Monitoring) that, among other benefits, could offer improved spatial and temporal resolution. This is of great importance to users that require accurate monitoring in a timely manner.

Improved spatial and temporal resolution to better serve user needs

As part of the evolution of the Copernicus Programme, the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS) is looking to meet the requests and needs of many users dealing with forest monitoring. Experts’ feedback has been collected and analysed by the EvoLand teams developing each of the EvoLand prototype services to cover the service specifications accordingly.

Most stakeholders interviewed by Evenflow confirmed that dense monitoring of forest dynamics, high update rates and timeliness as well as verified detection of changes are the most important requirement for the future evolution of CLMS. Having up to date forest maps in high spatial and temporal resolution can reveal a wealth of information about the status and health of European forests.

The Continuous Forest Monitoring prototype is looking to improve the monitoring capability of existing CLMS services for forest monitoring. It will distinguish between tree types and provide information on tree cover density as well as changes on forests cover (i.e., decreases or increases). According to users, an annual update rate suffices for most of the purposes in forest monitoring. Still, the consortium is working to generate even higher update rates, to make the structural changes and dynamics of forested areas more visible.

In addition, EvoLand also aims to improve the spatial resolution. Existing CLMS forest products offer a 10 to 20m spatial resolution.  EvoLand’s focus is to provide information about status and change in forest areas with 10m resolution, which allows users to conduct a more fine-grained assessment of forest dynamics.

While still developing and testing on prototype sites during the project, there is of course the aim of up scaling this. A fully operational service in a future CLMS portfolio should best cover all 39 countries participating in the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EEA38+UK in the future). This also complies with user needs. The prototypes have been chosen to represent the heterogeneity of biogeographic regions.

Leveraging cutting-edge technologies

To achieve timely provision, dense update rates and high resolution, EvoLand is exploring more advanced methods in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Specifically, the project is developing and testing these emerging technologies to assess their potential in exploiting large amounts of EO data in a fast and automized way, with high reliability. This is mandatory to make high update frequencies possible while also ensuring high accuracy. Development and testing will result in candidate prototypes being implemented in several European prototype sites and will be accompanied by tailored validation procedures.

Detect and mitigate

Confirmed also by upcoming European initiatives such as the EU Forest Strategy, the ecological, economic, and recreational importance of forests has come to the fore, meaning having detailed information about the status of forests and their dynamics is more critical than ever.