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Applications of remote sensing technologies to forest monitoring

LiDar pictureWe combine several different approaches and methods to the study of forests and remote sensing is becoming one of the most important. Its technologies offer the potential to explore the effects of different environmental drivers, land-use changes and disturbances on forest quantity, function and dynamics at large spatial scales.

Satellite data have been used to document landscape-level changes to the forest resource in southern Chile, and investigate how it is caused by, but also affects, different human uses1. Deforestation and degradation processes also have important implications for carbon storage and sequestration. With the help of remote sensing, this is being explored in systems ranging from tropical forests of West Africa2, to temperate forests of Europe, which we are investigating as part of the five-year FunDiv (Functional Diversity) programme. Airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is proving a revolutionary technology for this work. It provides a very high-resolution (< 1 m), three-dimensional description of the vertical and horizontal distribution of foliage across forested landscapes. We plan to employ it in repeat-surveys (5–10 year interval) of forests around the world to track the effects of disturbance processes on forest dynamics and carbon cycles.

LiDAR has also been applied to the evergreen and mixed oak forests of southern Iberia, to investigate patterns of forest species composition and diversity3 as well as conservation condition 4. In the latter study, the complementarity of LiDAR and optical remote sensing for land cover classification was demonstrated. Current work involves using hyperspectral data segmented to individual tree canopies to detect changes in foliar chemistry along environmental gradients, and relate these to functional traits in ways that will help understand and predict future changes in forest composition and dynamics.

  1. Echeverría, C., Newton, A., Nahuelhual, L., Coomes, D., & Rey-Benayas, J. M. (2012). How landscapes change: Integration of spatial patterns and human processes in temperate landscapes of southern Chile. Applied Geography, 32(2), 822-831.
  2. Laurin, G.V., Liesenberg, V., Chen, Q., Guerriero, L., Del Frate, F., Bartolini, A., Coomes, D.A.,Wilebore, R., Lindsell, J., Valentini, R. (2013). Optical and SAR sensor synergies for forest and landcover mapping in a tropical site in West Africa. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, 21, 7–16.
  3. Simonson, W. D., Allen, H. D., & Coomes, D.A. (2012) Use of an airborne lidar system to model plant species composition and diversity of Mediterranean oak forests. Conservation Biology, 26, 840-850.
  4. Simonson, W.D., Allen, H.D. & Coomes, D.A. (2013) Remotely sensed indicators of forest conservation status: Case study from a Natura 2000 site in southern Portugal. Ecological Indicators, 24: 636–647