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Tropical forest monitoring and remote sensing: A new era of transparency in forest governance?


Douglas O. Fuller (email:


The extent of tropical deforestation is now being tracked by actors in the nongovernmental, academic, private and government sectors using several different sources of satellite imagery. This paper presents an overview of the satellite systems that can be used for operational forest monitoring in the tropics and examines some recent trends in their use. It also reviews various satellite-based studies to map moist tropical forests and draws upon lessons learned from land cover mapping projects in several countries and regions. The case of Indonesia, examined as a nation undergoing rapid conversion of forest to other land uses, is contrasted with Brazil where satellite-based deforestation monitoring is fully operational. In Indonesia, the paper argues, the creation of a national monitoring system for tropical forest conversion is needed to create a source of transparent, reliable information on forest cover and condition. Such a system is likely to succeed if based on multitemporal, moderate-resolution optical data such as imagery provided by MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer). When MODIS images are complemented by radar and fine-resolution imagery from sensors such as IKONOS and QuickBird, areas of abrupt change can be identified and the causes potentially discerned. Thus, satellite imagery at multiple temporal and spatial resolutions can effectively increase transparency in the forestry sector by revealing the rate and extent of deforestation on an annual basis and identifying potential areas of illegal logging.