Developing Earth Observation products for monitoring tropical humid and dry forests

Project Description

The EOMonDis Project aims to offer operational Earth Observation (EO) based tropical forest monitoring services to support countries and a wide range of users with accurate relevant forest information data for their reporting requirements. The project especially aims at supporting countries implementing the REDD+ policy process as well as stakeholders involved in implementing Zero Deforestation commitments. By integrating dense time-series from optical and radar sensor systems, especially from the suite of the newly launched Sentinels, innovative methods will be developed to overcome existing challenges of tropical forest monitoring. Engaging with the user communities and implementing user feedback mechanisms will lead to continuous improvements of the services.

REDD+, National forest policy programmes and the Zero Deforestation (ZD) programme require Forest Monitoring Systems which provide information on forest/non-forest, deforestation, forest degradation as well as changes in above ground woody biomass (AGB). However, in order to provide operational forest monitoring services for the humid and dry tropical forests, several technical challenges still have to be overcome.

Challenges for accurate assessment of forest disturbances and changes are the occurrence of persistent cloud cover in tropical regions and the seasonal variations of the forest cover. Many of the tree species in the dry forests in Africa are deciduous with leaf fall in the dry season which poses a problem, as the optimal satellite images for the forest mapping can only be obtained in the winter season where the data is cloud free. However, during this season the forests have limited canopy cover and therefore the mapping produces higher inaccuracies. The new Sentinel satellite constellations that provide high frequency, high resolution optical and radar data will help to overcome these limitations.

Given the urgent need for operational National Forest Monitoring Systems (NFMS) for the REDD+ policy process as well as ZD, the overarching goal of the project is twofold: to develop innovative and cost-effective EO-based methods for continuous monitoring of forests and to examine the funding available for NFMS for a sustainable service provision. The innovative methods developed will be tested and demonstrated on four selected sites, which represent different humid and dry forest biomes and are located in Cameroon, Gabon, Malawi and Peru.

The overall Goals of EOMonDis are achieved by four main tasks

  • Requirements Assessment: User, market and technical requirement assessment.
  • Innovation and Development: Developing improved forest monitoring products and prototyping a service platform.
  • Demonstration and Validation: Product testing and verification in four test areas; customisation of the service platform according to user requests.
  • Service Sustainability: Development of a three year business concept based on dissemination and marketing activities. 

Requirements Assessment

The sustainability of the products and services being developed in EOMonDis is dependent on the funding available within the REDD+ and ZD programmes for NFMS. Thus a key and initial activity in the project is the assessment of potential funding sources for forest monitoring services in REDD+ and ZD. This involves examining the type and volumes of donor funding for the Results Based Payment Phase in REDD+ and the potential funding available from private sector for ZD. Of equal importance is the consolidation of the user requirements for specific forest products related to forest area, deforestation, degradation and above-ground biomass in tropical humid and dry biomes. 

The Project will thus start with collecting the functional requirements for the EOMonDis developments, building an optimal trade-off between environmental and climate policy requirements, the related potential markets, operational user needs and technological constraints.

Development and Innovation

The overall objective of this task is to improve the mapping of forest disturbances and degradation in the humid and dry tropical sub-biomes using changes in tree cover density and biomass as indicators.

Based on the results of the user requirements two main activities will be implemented:

  • developing innovative and user driven products for forest monitoring based on dense time series of optical and radar satellite data.
  • developing a web based service platform.

In order to achieve reliable and accurate results for forest monitoring, cost effective and highly automated integrated processing chains have to be developed. For this, the challenges of mapping dry tropical and humid forests have to be taken into account: i.e. leaf fall in dry seasons, fast regrowth after selective logging and availability of cloud free satellite data. The establishment of dense time-series from optical and radar satellite data and the development of innovative processing algorithms will help to overcome these challenges.

The access of the users to the products will be realised through a service platform that will be prototyped at an early stage of the project. Web mapping, data exchange and user interaction will be made available among other capabilities. The platform will be the project interface to demonstrate map products of different file formats, metadata and visualise the mapping results on an interactive map. 

Demonstration and Validation

The objective of this Task is to create trust and credibility on the newly developed innovative products and services. Therefore, the Operational Service Providers of the Consortium will test and integrate the technical components of the innovative products developments into operational processing chains. These will be demonstrated within an end-to-end service to the users including the application of credible validation and quality assurance systems. Statistically sound accuracy assessments are part of the validation system which will be based on very high resolution optical satellite data. The relevant users in the respective countries will be engaged in the assessment of the utility of the demonstrated products and the functionality of the service platform.

The experiences and feedback acquired during the demonstration and validation phase will lead to further improvements of the products and finally to the customization of the service platform. The aim is to achieve a high level of user acceptance, which is the basis for sustainability of services. 

Service Sustainability

This Task has the objective to disseminate and promote the project results to a wider external audience and to provide a road map for the development of viable business cases for delivering forest monitoring products and services to REDD+ and ZD users. In order to achieve sustainability of services, a three-year Business Concept has to be developed for the period after the termination of the EOMonDis project. Dissemination and promotion activities include presentations to relevant users, scientific workshops, conferences, direct meetings with the donor community for REDD+ and the private sector targeting Zero Deforestation. Additional activities include the preparation of a product sustainability concept and project related material such as brochures, flyers and presentations. The dissemination shall create awareness on the EOMonDis programme and products.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 685761.