Improving Global Carbon Estimates with LiDAR

Matteo Luccio in  13 May 2014


anthropogenic CO2 emissions. About 12 percent of these emissions are due to deforestation and forest degradation, mostly in developing countries. To limit forest emissions, in 2008 the United Nations launched its Collaborative Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD). Building on the convening role and technical expertise of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Development Program (UNDP), and Environment Program (UNEP), it supports nationally-led REDD+ processes and promotes the involvement of all stakeholders, including forest-dependent communities, in national and international REDD+ implementation. UN-REDD is one of the more slowly moving REDD programs because it has 51 partner countries at the table, each with a different perspective on policy.

Above-ground biomass absorbs carbon when trees are alive and releases it when they die or burn. The amount of carbon stored in trees is about half of the dry weight of its biomass. To participate in UN-REDD, a country needs a baseline measurement of the total carbon stock in its above-ground biomass and must then monitor this quantity over time to assess the amount of CO2 that it releases into the atmosphere. If it finds out that it is emitting less CO2 now than in the past, it might be able to get some credit for that. Therefore, the key technical question under the program’s monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) provisions is how to monitor the amount of carbon in forests that are being considered under the program, which requires both measuring the height of the forest canopy and understanding the mix of species it contains.

“How to actually know where the carbon in the forest is spatially is turning into one of the biggest challenges,” says Greg Asner, Staff Scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. In the past, UN-REDD policy allowed for estimation of carbon stocks in forests at the level of large regions or entire countries by sampling for carbon in forest inventory field plots. Nowadays, however, it requires detailed maps of carbon stocks. “Obviously, you cannot produce them with field data alone. So, we’ve been asked many times by governments involved in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to try to work on the ability to map carbon in a very spatially explicit way.” Without good monitoring it is impossible to implement good policy to sequester carbon in forests. “It would be like having a bank account and depositing money into it without ever getting a proper report from the bank as to whether your money is growing or not.”

One challenge for REDD programs is to make sure that an action taken to conserve carbon in one part of a forest does not simply displace emissions—for example, when loggers, banned from one area, move to another. Ensuring that does not happen would require systematically mapping carbon stocks and emissions throughout the entire surface of all the forests of the world, rather than project-by-project as is currently done.

Redd Colombia

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A Catalog of Satellite Sensors by Resolution

Click here to go to the web site.

A sample of the catalog follows:

Satellite Sensors (0.31m – 2m)

These sophisticated commercial earth observation satellite sensors provide high-resolution satellite image data that can be applied to applicationsPick one to learn more about it.

Worldview-3 (2014)

WorldView-3 Satellite

GeoEye-2 (Postponed)

GeoEye-2 Satellite

GeoEye-1 (0.41m)

GeoEye-1 Satellite

The man who’s making Google Maps smarter  24 June 2014

Ed Parsons wants less privacy. His neighbour wants more. When Google brought Street View to Britain five years ago, after an uncontroversial launch in the US two years earlier, an entire country looked itself up. Some of us caught glimpses of ourselves taking out the rubbish or washing the car. It was a huge moment in mapping because, Parsons says: “This was almost a non-map, the ultimate representation of the world – that last level of zoom that allows you to stand on the street corner.”

But some of us decided that we would prefer not to be captured by Google’s fleet of camera cars. In response to one of a growing number of challenges to the company’s tentacular supremacy, it was compelled to obscure things on request – including pretty much the whole of modern Germany. In the UK, one of thousands of requests came from the man down the road from Parsons. “He has quite a big house and you can see it for almost the whole length of the street,” Parsons says. “As a result, my house isn’t on Street View, which I hate.”

Parsons is a mapping evangelist, a cartographer-geek whose childhood passions for geography and computing, and a grown-up belief in open data, got him the biggest job in the business. For more than seven years, he has been Google’s “geospatial technologist”, or chief geographer. As such, his job is to make the company’s mapping smarter for the billion people who use it each month. Just as it does in the world of search, however, growth brings greater responsibility – and controversy. And in mapping, neighbourly disputes can get serious.

One for the roads: technology has helped us to navigate our way aroundOne for the roads: technology has helped us to navigate our way aroundUnlike your granny’s dog-eared editions of The Times Atlas of the World, Google’s map changes depending where you go. (Google Ukraine) for a striking recent example. The map centres on the country, surrounded by its squiggly black border with seven countries. Now go (Google Russia) and zoom in on Ukraine. A new line appears, almost 100 miles long, cutting Crimea out of the country and claiming it for Moscow.

Similar variations – and occasional protests by governments – occur across the Google globe, where maps change because they can, and because, Google says, they have to. Parsons has a colleague who deals with such disputes, a (very) full-time job that requires diplomacy and a hotline to the UN. In 2010, a Costa Rican newspaper reported that a Nicaraguan military commander had sent troops to a disputed territory due to a misunderstanding caused by an erroneous Google Maps border. As tension built, Google said in a statement: “Google maps are of very high quality… [but] by no means should they be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries.” The border was corrected and the troops withdrawn.

Parsons is talking inside Google’s London headquarters. It overlooks a maze of streets around Tottenham Court Road, which the geographer sees not as a mess of asphalt and urban evolution, but “an opportunity”. He says Google makes only practical, not political, decisions about borders. “I guess, naively perhaps, we hoped we could have one global map of the world that everyone used, but politics is complicated,” he says. “In some countries we are legally obliged to represent borders in particular ways.”

What if you don’t, say, in India? (The country has disputed borders with China and Pakistan.)

“They could lock up our staff in India,” Parsons replies, adding: “We want to represent the complexity of the world, and that sometimes leads us to these awkward situations.”

Parsons’ route to Google started in south-west London. A field trip to Wales inspired his fondness for geography. He later studied at the Cranfield Institute of Technology in Bedfordshire, where a talent for computing also became evident. “My first real job was with a marketing company in London, digitising the boundaries of postcode areas,” he says. “I had to write the program to do it. Potentially, if you get junk mail now, I’m partially responsible for you getting targeted.”

Mapping has become infinitely more advanced since then, and even voguish in an age when data visualisations can go viral online. Parsons says he sometimes grimaces at the quality of these maps, but was tickled last month by one that showed the range of The Proclaimers’ walk from the band’s base in Leith (500 miles, then 500 more). “Maps aren’t just for the anoraks now,” he says. “Thanks to mobile and social media, they’re much more a part of our everyday lives.”

A Street View imageA Street View imageBut while you or I might use online maps to navigate our way to a restaurant after work, or to find the nearest post office, Parsons became aware long before Google’s Street View controversy of how political geography can be. Years before, he had worked for a company that had been commissioned to help South Africa to get ready – in a hurry – for its first democratic elections in 1994.

“We were involved in creating the electoral districts,” he recalls. “Imagine the complexity of the British political-party system multiplied by 10 in terms of scale and with a year to work it out.” Parsons crunched data to create constituencies, while others went out to check the new boundaries. The new maps were about people more than land. “They were a manifestation of the fact democracy had arrived,” Parsons explains. “Suddenly, it mattered that a posh, white area in Pretoria was represented equally to every other part of the country.”

At Google, Parsons now helps to map all the world to some degree, a feat illustrated when the company launched Google Earth in 2005, the same year it revealed its digital atlas. Online maps had been glorified paper maps – static affairs that needed to be refreshed with the click of an arrow. Then, suddenly, Google put a virtual globe in our hands, with no limit to the way it could be spun. “Very few of us had had the opportunity to hang 10ft in the air and look down at an image and know what we were looking at,” Parsons says. Two years later, smartphones shrank that globe and put it in our pockets.

Before he joined Google in 2007, Parsons had also worked as a university lecturer. Then he became head of technology at Ordnance Survey (OS), Britain’s mapping agency. He was there the day Google Earth was launched. “I remember being at a conference with the leaders of all the world’s mapping agencies and saying to them, ‘Your world has changed today. Everything you do will be different because of the impact this will have.'”

He now spends much of his time out of London, meeting academics and entrepreneurs whose innovations might improve mapping. Just last week, Google bought Skybox, an imaging firm capable of capturing high-resolution photography film using small satellites. Other work is more mundane. “When you’re encoding the location of phone boxes, someone has to decide where the semicolons go in the file format,” Parsons says. “That’s my job.”

Almost 10 years after that Google-led revolution in mapping, Parsons says the company still has much to do to improve in some areas. “We’re still largely focused on the West,” he admits. Then there are the privacy issues that now seem to form the backdrop to all the company’s activity. In Germany, where cultural expectations of privacy are strong, additional blurring requests on Street View reached such a volume that Google gave up on new photography (Berlin is now “frozen” in 2008). “It reached an extreme point where you could ask for your individual apartment to be blurred,” Parsons says.  Read more here.

Cuba Agrees to Host Russian Glonass Navigation Stations – See more at:

Moscow Times in   19 June 2014

While the U.S. and Russia continue to bicker over the deployment of Glonass navigation stations on American soil and the status of GPS stations in Russia, Moscow has found a way to get its foot in the door to North America by installing Glonass infrastructure in Cuba.

A statement on the Russian government’s website on Wednesday said Russia had signed a new space cooperation agreement with Cuba — a country that has no presence in space at all. The only substance to the agreement, which the statement said is “intended to create a legal and organizational basis for mutually beneficial Russian-Cuban cooperation in the field,” is Cuba’s assenting to host Glonass differential correction and monitoring stations.

If Russia is ever to bring Glonass up to snuff with the U.S.-owned and operated Global Positioning System, or GPS, which Moscow needs to do to effectively utilize Glonass for military and economic purposes, it must have a truly global network of tracking stations. In this regard, Cuba is a beachhead for Russia’s satellite technology in North America.

Russia had wanted to base stations in the U.S., but U.S. authorities have been dragging their feet on the issue of hosting Glonass stations for almost a year due to national security concerns — much to the consternation of Russian officials such as Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who last month decided to hold for ransom a network of scientific GPS stations used to monitor continental drift on the Eurasian landmass. Rogozin threatened to shut GPS off from the stations if Washington does not hammer out a deal on the placement of Glonass stations in the U.S. by Sept. 1.

Russia plans to establish Glonass facilities in 36 countries around the world, enabling different stations to compare location data in order to dramatically increase the accuracy of Glonass’s positioning information — a technique known as differential correction. Russia hopes that this worldwide network will allow it to achieve a level of parity with GPS in terms of reliability and accuracy for the end-user.

Already Glonass stations have been set up in Brazil and Antarctica, but Russia hopes to establish an additional 50 stations, including in the U.S., to support these ambitions.

Arizona State University And The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency To Address National Security Risks Of Climate Change Written by Arizona State University – See more at:

Arizona State in  19 June 2014

Arizona State University (ASU) was selected for a competitive five-year award of $20 million by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to launch a research partnership, effective June 1, 2014, to explore approaches for anticipating and mitigating national security risks associated with climate change.

Known as the Foresight Initiative, the cooperative agreement venture will explore how the effects of climate change on resources, such as water, food, and energy, could contribute to political unrest and instability and gain insights to sustainability and resilience strategies for mitigating the effects.

This initiative will play a key role in collaborative research efforts to accelerate the evolution of Activity-Based Intelligence addressing system level activities, dynamics, and interdependent network effects in the context of global climate risks to water security. This multi-year research partnership leverages ASU expertise and thought leadership in visual analytics, complex modeling, and transdisciplinary decision making evolving from years of internal and external investments at ASU.

“NGA’s investment and partnership with ASU is a game-changing relationship,” said Michael Crow, ASU president. “This innovative research initiative will develop solutions and be a catalyst for the critical and creative thinking needed to address the complex challenges that come with climate change.”

Leveraging computing and system modeling initiatives at ASU and partner organizations, the Foresight Initiative will apply ubiquitous cloud computing and storage technologies, advances in natural user interfaces, and machine learning to address unique geospatial data handling and visual analytic challenges driven by the volume and character of future persistent data flows. The resulting capabilities will allow analysts and decision makers to dynamically interact with diverse data sets in a real-time modeling and simulation environment. This will help them assess the effectiveness of plans, policies, and decisions; discover second- and third-order causal relationships; and understand spatial and temporal patterns that reveal non-obvious underlying interconnections and dependencies.

“I am very proud to announce our partnership with ASU, a world class research university,” said NGA Director, Letitia Long. “Our partnership is a prime example of the intelligence community working smartly with academia to address strategic global issues and to create capabilities that benefit everyone.”

Key areas at ASU that will be integral to this work include the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Public Programs, Decision Theater Network, and Decision Center for a Desert City.

For example, ASU’s Decision Theater provides advanced modeling and simulation that allows diverse groups of stakeholders to visualize large amounts of data, policy parameters, and environmental uncertainties on panoramic HD displays. Scientists, analysts, and decision makers can easily interact in real-time to tweak the rules and data sets to account for new insights and deeper understanding of relationships, providing a range of outcomes based on the changes. This allows for more effective decision making among people from different backgrounds.

“This is a tremendous partnership and opportunity for a real, tangible impact in addressing strategic security and humanitarian needs,” said Nadya Bliss, principal investigator of the Foresight Initiative and assistant vice president, research strategy with ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “It is also pioneering how the academic and government research communities can leverage each other’s strengths to seek solutions to these global-scale issues while advancing fundamental transdisciplinary research. ASU is the perfect place for this initiative because of the culture of use-inspired research and exceptional quality faculty working across traditional disciplinary boundaries.”

About Arizona State University:
Arizona State University is the largest public research university in the United States under a single administration, with total student enrollment of more than 70,000 in metropolitan Phoenix, the nation’s sixth-largest city. ASU is creating a new model for American higher education, an unprecedented combination of academic excellence, entrepreneurial energy and broad access. This New American University is a single, unified institution comprising four differentiated campuses positively impacting the economic, social, cultural and environmental health of the communities it serves. Its research is inspired by real-world application, blurring the boundaries that traditionally separate academic disciplines. ASU champions intellectual and cultural diversity, and welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 120 nations.

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