Towards the use of satellite-based tropical forest disturbance alerts to assess selective logging intensities

May 8, 2023

An article of Anne-Juul Welsink, Johannes Reiche, Veronique De Sy, Sarah Carter, Bart Slagter, Daniela Requena suarez, Ben Batros, Marielos Pena claros, Martin Herold: Towards the use of satellite-based tropical forest disturbance alerts to assess selective logging intensities, has been published in Environmental Research Letters 18, 054023.

Doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/acd018

Illegal logging is an important driver of tropical forest loss. A wide range of organizations and interested parties wish to track selective logging activities and verify logging intensities as reported by timber companies. Recently, free availability of 10 m scale optical and radar Sentinel data has resulted in several satellite-based alert systems that can detect increasingly small-scale forest disturbances in near-real time. This paper provides insight in the usability of satellite-based forest disturbance alerts to track selective logging in tropical forests. We derive the area of tree cover loss from expert interpretations of monthly PlanetScope mosaics and assess the relationship with the RAdar for Detecting Deforestation (RADD) alerts across 50 logging sites in the Congo Basin. We do this separately for various aggregation levels, and for tree cover loss from felling and skidding, and logging roads. A strong linear relationship between the alerts and visually identified tree cover loss indicates that with dense time series satellite data at 10 m scale, the area of tree cover loss in logging concessions can be accurately estimated. We demonstrate how the observed relationship can be used to improve near-real time tree cover loss estimates based on the RADD alerts. However, users should be aware that the reliability of estimations is relatively low in areas with few disturbances. In addition, a trade-off between aggregation level and accuracy requires careful consideration. An important challenge regarding remote verification of logging activities remains: as opposed to tree cover loss area, logging volumes cannot yet be directly observed by satellites. We discuss ways forward towards satellite-based assessment of logging volumes at high spatial and temporal detail, which would allow for better remote sensing based verification of reported logging intensities and tracking of illegal activities.