Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Satellite Imagery Activism: Sharpening the Focus on Tropical Deforestation

The Rise of Satellite Imagery Activism
According to the authors (from the RAND Corp. & George Washington University), the first Landsat satellite was launched by the U.S. in 1972 and since then has opened up the doors to satellite remote sensing, especially in terms of natural resource sustainability and human activity monitoring. The original users of satellite imagery were state agencies (civil & military), natural resource related businesses and scientific research institutes. However today the groups that use satellite imagery run the gamut from NGO's to multinational organizations. Since the early days of satellite imagery there have been dramatic improvements in availability and quality that have lead to increased accessibility. First, cheap and highly powerful computing abilities have broadened the range of individuals that can work with imagery data. Second, "the advent of user-friendly software for image processing and analysis has made imagery analysis much less the purview of remote sensing specialists". Third, the cost of imagery data has drastically declined with the onset of cheaper Landsat/SPOT images, declassified U.S. & Russian intelligence imagery and many other forms of commercially available imagery. Lastly, the internet and CD-ROM's have facilitated the spread of imagery with giants like Google moving into the arena.

Imagery Activism & Tropical Forests
Due to "rising levels of global transparency" and recent software and internet abilities, there are many avenues in which citizens can bring awareness to public policy issues through the use of satellite imagery. A lot of environmental factors can be analyzed via satellite imagery such as changes in vegetation, biological stress and habitat characterization. Out of these issues, there has been the greatest focus on monitoring trends in tropical deforestation. Besides simple deforestation, "satellite imagery can be used to monitor growth, as well as the effects of human activity and exploitation...on the surrounding ecosystems". Satellite images can provide objective proof of potential logging infractions and at the same time be built up into databases to provide long-term monitoring of forests. In the last several years, the international community's gaze has fallen on the tropical rainforests of Brazil and Indonesia. Brazil in particular has seen the dramatic expansion of road networks, farms, pastures and plantations, all at the expense of the rainforests.

In summary, this paper examined the rise of satellite imagery in today's society and how this imagery affects the world's tropical rainforests. The paper's focus was on deforestation in specifically Brazil and Indonesia. Furthermore, the paper's aim is to attract global attention to the problem of deforestation by utilizing satellite imagery data and other geospatial technologies.


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