ESA to sign agreement with Indonesian Ministry of Forestry

Tree height measurements using airborne radar
11 June 2004

One of the biggest environmental problems we currently face is the alarming rate at which the Earth’s tropical rainforests are being destroyed. The implications that this has for climate change, loss of biodiversity and land degradation are of real global concern, as are the associated socio-economic issues.

Recently however, data from ESA’s Envisat satellite was used to detect illegal logging practices in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Following this success, ESA is now signing an agreement with the Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta, Indonesia to carry out an airborne campaign to prepare for a possible future satellite mission to measure global forest biomass.

Illegal logging

The one-week Indonesian Radar Experiment (INDREX-2) is planned for December this year. During this campaign tree height will be mapped with radar at X-, C-, L- and P-band from an aircraft over tropical forest. The experiment is intended to ascertain the best requirements for a spaceborne mission that will hopefully contribute towards the sustainable management of our forests.

Aircraft carrying INDREX-2 radar equipment

Evert Attema, Head of ESA’s Campaigns Unit said, “INDREX-2 offers an excellent opportunity for space technology to help secure the future of our planet. The results will demonstrate how to use the capabilities of the current satellites at C-band. For the future, ESA is testing radar with longer wavelengths that can penetrate the forest to see more detail and measure tree height. Engineers at ESA need this experiment to make design choices for systems that will be in space in about ten years from now. We are looking forward to the workshop in Jakarta in September 2005, where the results of the experiment will be presented.”

Observing forest from space will not only provide vital information about the health of our forests and the global carbon cycle, but will also have the added benefit of detecting the surge of illegal logging that is currently having a devastating effect on the environment. Evidence from remote sensing will provide an extremely valuable tool for the authorities to use to help clampdown on these illegal practices and make sure that the culprits are appropriately dealt with.

Baby orang-utan, Indonesia

In Indonesia, the Borneo Orang-utan Survival Foundation (BOS) also believes that monitoring the forest from space will help towards the protection of the endangered orang-utan. The plight of this species is of real concern since they are being forced out of their natural habitat as huge areas of forest are destroyed. Starving, they are beginning to encroach on human settlements in the search for food, but sadly often end up being cruelly slaughtered.

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