Palm oil industry to jointly develop radar monitoring to detect deforestation

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Palm oil industry to jointly develop radar monitoring to detect deforestation

Published on
November 1, 2019

Ten major palm oil producers and buyers are collaborating in the development of a new, publicly available radar-based forest monitoring system known as Radar Alerts for Detecting Deforestation (RADD). This system will make it much easier for companies and other stakeholders to see deforestation happening in near-real-time and with greater accuracy. The RADD system is currently being developed by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Satelligence.

With the information, the world’s largest palm oil producers and buyers – including Bunge, Cargill, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), Mondelēz International, Musim Mas, Nestlé, Pepsico, Sime Darby Plantation, Unilever and Wilmar – can more quickly mobilize follow-up actions on the ground and work to improve the sustainability of commodity supply chains. The RADD system is currently being developed for Indonesia and Malaysia. Preliminary results indicate that the new system can detect tropical deforestation several weeks earlier than optical-based systems.

Penetrate cloud cover

The RADD system will augment existing publicly available monitoring tools that rely on optical-based satellite imagery, which can be delayed when clouds obstruct the view of forests. Through the use of radar waves, the new system can penetrate cloud cover and gather forest change information without being affected by clouds or sunlight. It is the first radar-based monitoring system of this scale that will make deforestation alerts publicly available. Once the system is complete, the alerts will be available on Global Forest Watch and Global Forest Watch Pro, and the methodology behind the alerts will be published.

The new system will utilize freely available radar data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A and B satellites, which orbit the earth every six to 12 days. These satellites provide high spatial detail that will also improve detection of smaller clearing events.

Providing radar-based deforestation alerts as a public good will help to further increase transparency of unsustainable and illegal activities in tropical forests.
Johannes Reiche, assistant professor Radar Remote Sensing at WUR

Open access

Throughout the RADD system development over the next two years, partner companies will receive alerts about detected deforestation events and will provide crucial feedback to improve the system. The open nature of the system will enable companies - plus governments, civil society organizations and concerned stakeholders - to monitor forests using the same information source and standards.

“I am very excited to be part of this unique project, and with this to support transparent forest management,” says Johannes Reiche, assistant professor Radar Remote Sensing at WUR. Advancing our radar and machine-learning methods to build an operational monitoring system that detects deforestation more quickly and accurately is a great challenge. Providing radar-based deforestation alerts as a public good will help to further increase transparency of unsustainable and illegal activities in tropical forests.”