UK and USA, 15 June 2016 - Sustainability software and data company Ecometrica is spearheading an international collaboration to monitor the Earth's forests and tackle climate change. It follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the firm and the Division of Research at the University of Maryland in the USA, the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh and the Research and Enterprise Division at the University of Leicester.
The universities of Maryland, Edinburgh and Leicester will deploy Ecometrica's digital infrastructure platform to explore the collaborative use of Lidar technology and earth observation data assets ahead of the launch of NASA's Lidar mission on the International Space Station - the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation Lidar (GEDI) – which is expected to vastly increase the quality and quantity of data available to environmental scientists. GEDI is led by the University of Maryland in collaboration with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and is scheduled for launch in early 2019.
Ecometrica's mapping and digital infrastructure platform, which is already being used to monitor forest degradation in parts of Latin America through the UK Space Agency's International Partnership Space Programme (IPSP), will be employed to collate the vast amounts of data and imagery being generated both from satellites and on the ground. The platform will facilitate the sharing and analysis of earth observation data with the goal of stimulating international collaboration on the monitoring and modelling of forests. Deployment of the Ecometrica platform is funded by the UK Space Agency and a grant to the University of Maryland through NASA's Carbon Monitoring System programme.
Dr Richard Tipper, chairman of Ecometrica, said: “With the UK alone now spending £200m a year to protect forests, it is crucial to be able to monitor their success and to target efforts at the areas that are being most at risk of degradation and deforestation.
“Earth observation technologies, capable of supporting sustainable forestry, agriculture and natural resource management around the world, are providing a growing stream of satellite images and data for scientists to work with: We will provide a co-ordinating role and will conduct an annual review of progress, research priorities and user needs. The digital infrastructure we’ve developed will enable the institutions to work on data assets collaboratively.”
Ecometrica and the three universities, which have signed the memorandum of understanding, are all engaged in research and development activities supporting improved understanding of the processes and results of changes to forests. As well as the GEDI mission, they expect a growing range of data from the European Space Agency's Globbiomass project and Biomass mission, plus an existing array of earth observation assets and related ground measurements.
Professor Mathew Williams of the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The health of the world's forests has a significant bearing on climate change and the global environment, so it is important to build an accurate picture of what is happening, particularly in the vast and remote tropical forests, and to target conservation resources accordingly. Satellites are increasingly providing that information, and being able to explore such data in collaboration with fellow institutions that have complementary areas of expertise will hugely enhance the insight we can jointly provide to help conserve these magnificent and very important ecosystems.”
Professor Heiko Balzter, Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at University of Leicester said: “Radar and LiDAR satellites have revealed what is happening to the world's forests but both have certain limitations: Radar images provide details of forests in all weather conditions and independent of daylight. LiDAR can provide vertical profile data of the forest canopy. Positioned on the International Space Station, all of the Earth's tropical forests and many temperate woodlands will be covered by GEDI, providing a large amount of data which will have to be assessed and analysed. Doing so in collaboration with colleagues around the world will increase the value of this data.”
Professor Ralph Dubayah of the University of Maryland said: “The Earth Observation systems now being launched will provide unprecedented amounts of data on the world's forests and other environments for decades to come. To fully understand our effects on these ecosystems and how they are changing we need systems that allow scientists to work with the remote sensing data, the associated field observations, and to share our results both with other scientists, but also local and regional stakeholders. The digital infrastructure being created by Ecometrica as part of this MOU will facilitate these interactions, and enhance our ability to understand the drivers of ecosystem degradation, from climate change to human-induced land cover change. This in turn will help inform relevant policy actions geared towards slowing and even reversing this degradation."