Space for the Rainforest

 Space for the Rainforest

It is widely know that the world’s rainforest is vital for human survival as a species and for the survival of all life on Earth. It is also widely known that this rainforest is being exploited to an extent that it is endangering its existence. Space plays an important role in monitoring this vital resource.

Deforestation a key topic at COP26

At the recent COP26 summit in Scotland, over 100 world leaders have vowed to end – and even reverse – the damaging effects of deforestation by 2030. This marks one of the climate conference’s most important outcomes.

Many countries, including Brazil, a country where large swathes of the Amazon rainforest have been cut down, signed an important deal, with around £14 billion being pledged to help the cause.

“There is no path to net zero emissions without addressing tropical forests,” Julia Jones, a conservation scientist at Bangor University in Wales, said. “So, to have everyone come together and address this so early in the conference, with so many people at the table, is so important.” (source)

Palm oil plantation in the rainforest
Palm oil plantation in the rainforest in Cameroon (photo: author)

The importance of rainforests

So why are rainforests so important? According to the Rainforest Alliance, they are vital for human survival as a species and for all life on Earth, really.

Over one billion hectares – that’s an area the size of Europe – has been destroyed over the last forty years, and the destruction continues, putting the planet in peril.

To stop, or even reverse this tragic deforestation we have to take action now. Protecting and restoring forests could reverse global emissions by a third. A recent article, based on an interview with the head of sustainable forest management of the Rainforest Alliance, listed nine key reasons why rainforests are so important:

  • Forests absorb greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide
  • Forests clean the air
  • Forests help regulate the earth’s water cycle
  • Forests stabilise the soil
  • Forests protect biodiversity and endangered species
  • Forests provide livelihoods
  • Forests provide a pharmacy
  • Forests provide foods that you love
  • Forests protect our future

To further emphasise this importance, a recent article in National Geographic estimated the role of topical forests as follows: “According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), if tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide on Earth. Additionally, on balance, the world’s forests are carbon sinks, removing approximately 7.6 billion tons of carbon—roughly 20 percent of global emissions—from the atmosphere each year. An agreement to remove those emissions and protect that carbon sink would be a significant achievement for the conference Johnson’s government is hosting.”

FSC Managed Rainforest in Cameroon
FSC Managed rainforest in Cameroon (photo: author)

Rainforest Monitoring from Space

Earth observation satellites have been around for nearly four decades, providing information on global resources and environmental change. Public missions, such as NASA’s Landsat mission and the Copernicus Sentinel mission, have catalysed many downstream scientific and industrial applications.

Forest monitoring is an important area that has benefited from improving Earth observation systems. One area within forest monitoring that is rapidly advancing with the interoperability of public and commercial satellites, is validating and classifying deforestation alerts. Traditionally, deforestation alerts have been powered by 30m or 10m per pixel satellite data feeds. With universal access to <5m per pixel commercial satellite data feeds now available through the NICFI Satellite Data Program, validating and classifying deforestation alerts is becoming more efficient, accurate, and actionable than ever. (source)

How to find space data for forestry?

There are many different ways to find satellite data about forests and changes in forests around the world. And the good news is that many of these are free to use! The European Commission for example has made all data generated by its Copernicus Earth Observation programme available to all users free of charge. There are different online portals that make this data, often combined with other space and non-space data sources available:

Global Forest Watch

An important tool that makes Earth observation data from space accessible to users is Global Forest Watch (GFW). This is an online platform that provides data and tools for monitoring forests. By harnessing cutting-edge technology, GFW allows anyone to access near real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world.

Global Forest Watch makes the best available data about forests available online for free, creating unprecedented transparency about what is happening in forests worldwide. Better information supports smarter decisions about how to manage and protect forests for current and future generations, and greater transparency helps the public hold governments and companies accountable for how their decisions impact forests. GFW data is accessed daily by governments, companies, civil society organizations, journalists, and everyday people who care about their local forests.

GFW Map showing tree cover in 2010 (green) and tree cover loss between 2001-2021 (purple)

Forest Exploitation Platform (F-TEP)

Forestry TEP is an online solution for commercial, research and public sector users to improve forest management while ensuring sustainability and carbon sequestration. It will let you work with satellite data online and share your outputs and collaborate.

You can access F-TEP here.


SEPAL stands for the System for Earth observations, data access, Processing and Analusis for Land monitoring. It is an open source project by the Open Foris team in the Forestry Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FOA), funded by the Government of Norway. SEPAL allows users to query and process satellite data quickly and efficiently, tailor their products for local needs, and produce sophisticated and relevant geospatial analyses quickly.

You can access SEPAL here.

3FM Serious Request

Every year Dutch Radio station 3FM runs a charity fundraising event called “Serious Request”. People and organisations from across the country donate or take part in fundraising events around a common cause, with the main happening being a live broadcast from a “Glass House”, this year in Amersfoort.

3FM Serious Request 2021 (photo: NPO 3FM)

This year, the event supports the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), with specific projects to conserve the rainforests in South America. Groundstation.Space Board Member Linda van Duivenbode and NL Space Campus Community Manager Maaike Smelter have set up a fundraising campaign to draw attention to “Space for the Rainforest”!

Satellites and space data have been documenting deforestation and the disastrous consequences for biodiversity and climate for years – how nice would it therefore be for the Dutch space community to raise money, and at the same time show the role of Dutch knowledge in technology and data applications?

For this, they have organised a fundraiser!

#SR21 Space for the Rainforest fund raising

We would love for you to join and support this campaign. If you would like to donate please go to their action page! (All donations are made directly to the WWF account.)

Linda van Duivenbode and Maaike Smelter
Click the image to support Linda and Maaike!

Read more about monitoring rainforests from space

Brazil’s Space Agency Head Was Forced Out for Defending Climate Science (

New satellite images to allow anyone, anywhere, to monitor tropical deforestation (NICFI)

Remco Timmermans

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