The role of Earth Observation satellites in combating climate change is being highlighted at the United Nations climate change conference where thousands of delegates from more than 180 countries are gathered to begin negotiations of an international emissions-cutting agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012.
The Protocol commits its signatories to reduce levels of greenhouse gases chief among them carbon dioxide believed to be increasing global warming. Around 25 billion tonnes of extra carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere annually by human activities, mainly through burning of fossil fuels, land clearance and wildfires.
Because deforestation in tropical rainforests accounts for as much as 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, finding ways to curb or halt deforestation is high on the conferences agenda. One scheme under consideration, called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD), involves developed countries offsetting their emissions by paying developing countries for every hectare of forest they do not cut down. In order for the carbon-accounting scheme to work, systematic monitoring of forests is crucial, with tropical deforestation as a major contributor.
Earth Observation (EO) can provide baseline mapping by high resolution optical satellite sensors like Landsats Thematic Mapper, Spots HR, Terras ASTER, IRS-P6s medium resolution AWIFS, Envisats MERIS and Terras MODIS instruments, which are the work horses for large area baseline mapping.
However, tropical rainforests are notorious for persistent cloud cover, which prevents traditional satellite sensors from making regular acquisitions. Satellite radar sensors flown aboard ESAs Envisat and ERS satellites are able to produce reliable high-quality images of these areas because they are able to peer through clouds, haze and smoke.
|Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto|
European Space Agency