Measuring tropical forest degradation and its consequences using satellite data


Professor Shaun Quegan, School of Mathematics and Statistics | +44 (0)114 2223778


Dr David Edwards, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
Dr Robert Bryant, Department of Geography
NERC National Centre for Earth Observation

Grantham Scholar

Matthew Hethcoat

The exploitation of wood resources from Earth’s tropical forests (for furniture or hardwood flooring, for example) has severe implications for global climate change, local populations and biodiversity. In response, the United Nations (UN) has developed a number of initiatives to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity losses through better forest management. Deforestation and forest degradation account for 10-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the UN anticipates payments to tropical nations from these initiatives could reach $30 billion annually.

Much of our understanding about large scale changes in land-use relies on satellite data, which can accurately detect complete deforestation. However, techniques to work out the extent of forest degradation caused by selective logging are poorly developed because the structure of selectively logged forests have been difficult to measure from historical data. This is a particularly important knowledge gap, given that over 400 million hectares of tropical rainforest – an area the size of the European Union – is in the tropical timber estate. Newly available satellite data, however, offer a means to address this problem through developing new ways to measure forests. This project will use very high resolution satellite imagery, and other improved technologies, to map and quantify the global extent of selectively logged tropical forests.

Contact: Matthew Hethcoat,