Satellites can help preserve Earth's biodiversity


Satellites can help preserve Earth's biodiversity

Published on
July 28, 2015

To help preserve the biodiversity of our planet, ecologists should make more use of remote sensing and apply the knowledge of aerospace agencies like NASA and ESA. This according to an international group of remote sensing specialists in an article published today in Nature. 'This is extremely feasible given that more and more satellite images are being made available as open data,' says one of the authors, Sander Mücher, of Wageningen UR's Alterra research institute.

Photo: Close-up of northwest Sardinia, taken by the recently launched Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite.

Until recently, the biodiversity of our planet was largely monitored by tracking species. This fragmented approach would often miss developments on a global scale and in remote areas of the world, as was the case with climate change in the past. 'Remote sensing techniques have expanded our knowledge significantly,' says Mücher. 'Research on essential climate variables is an excellent example of how remote sensing measurements can support IPCC reports. Measuring biodiversity is much more difficult and remote sensing has played a minimal role in this to date.'

The researchers, including Andrew Skidmore from the University of Twente, hope to change this. They plan to map Earth's biodiversity using a method that proved successful for researching climate change. Satellite images can quickly and accurately identify where essential changes in biodiversity are happening throughout the world. This includes vegetation changes, which can easily be tracked through satellite images and which can be used to draw more general conclusions about the biodiversity of specific areas.

'Our goal,' says Mücher, 'is to identify the variables and the relationships that contribute to these changes, and develop methods to translate the satellite data into relevant policy information that can help us track the biodiversity of our planet. If ecologists and remote sensing specialists begin collaborating on this issue, we could set up a global monitoring system within ten years that uses satellites to track the development of our biodiversity.' 

Click here for the article Agree on biodiversity metrics to track from space. Nature, 23 July 2015.