Measuring tropical forest degradation and its consequences using satellite data

Grantham Scholar Dr Matthew Hethcoat is currently a researcher at the University of Sheffield. His project at the Grantham Centre project uses very high resolution satellite imagery to map and quantify the global extent of selectively logged tropical forests.

Matthew Hethcoat’s current work

Recently, Matt got in touch and gave us an update about his work. If you want to find out more about where our Scholars go when they leave us you can read our Annual Review. Read: The Story Continues.

Matt: “I am currently working on a postdoc that extends my PhD work – still with Sheffield University. My PhD with the Grantham Centre focused on detecting selective logging within Brazil. Now me and my new team are trying to extend this to other regions within the tropics.

So far, we have initiated a pilot project with a Peruvian government agency, The Agency for the Supervision of Forest and Wildlife Resources (OSINFOR). Our goal is to help them monitor selective logging concessions more effectively.

a logging road used for selective logging by Matthew Hethcoat
Selective logging is a big problem for tropical forests. You can read all about Matt’s research into selective logging by following the link in text.

The US Forest Service’s International Partners Grants is funding this project. It is in collaboration with World Resources Institute. And it runs through to February 2021.”

Matt and his new team have developed new ways of mapping forests using logging data to create an algorithm. This algorithm understands what satellite imagery looks like when trees have been cut down. If you want to find out more about this research, you can read Matt’s account of it. Read: New research on selective logging in Brazil.

Matthew’s project at the Grantham Centre

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. This is 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.


Is the only way to stop the biodiversity crisis to put a value on nature? Some argue it is. However, as the Journal Club session led by Grantham Scholar Matt Hethcoat showed, this can lead to some paradoxical consequences for biodiversity. Matt takes us through both sides of the debate. Read: The paradox of valuing nature by Matthew Hethcoat.

Watch: Valuing Nature: Does a price on nature help or hinder its conservation? Matt was part of a group of Scholars who organised this seminar on the pros and cons of putting a price on nature. You can watch it on our YouTube channel.

Social media and research portals

You can stay in touch with Matthew through Twitter.

Matthew’s profile on ResearchGate is here.

Prizes and awards

Matthew won a prize for the best talk given by an Early Career Scientist.

In 2016 Matt won an award at the National Centre for Earth Observation’s Annual Science Conference.


Professor Shaun Quegen

School of Mathematics and Statistics