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Remote sensing in forestry

Canadian Forest Service scientists have a long history of pioneering research in the use of remote sensing technologies to gather forest information. Forester H.E. Seely led the way in the 1930s when he determined how to identify tree species and calculate timber volume using aerial photography.

Today, Seely’s successors partner with organizations such as the Canadian Space Agency, the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, NASA (the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency), the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, as well as the provinces, universities and industry to find ways to use satellite and airborne data to map and classify forested land cover and its changes across Canada, and to track forest health, structure, biomass and natural disturbances.

Projects and technologies include:

  • BioSpace—Biodiversity monitoring with earth observation data—is a joint project of the Canadian Forest Service, the Canadian Space Agency and the University of British Columbia. Satellite remote sensing is giving researchers the capacity to monitor biodiversity on a national scale, including remote regions that are otherwise inaccessible.
  • The Earth Observation for Sustainable Development of Forests (EOSD) project is a joint initiative of the Canadian Forest Service and the Canadian Space Agency. It is aimed at establishing a national forest measuring and monitoring system using Landsat satellite images.
  • Hyperspectral imagery reveals objects and data that cannot be picked up by other multispectral sensors. Canadian Forest Service researchers are developing ways to use the technology in forestry, to improve forest inventory and health information as well as increasing information about biodiversity, natural disturbances and the effects of climate change.
  • High and very high resolution images (10 to 100 cm/pixel) mark a potential transition from mapping relatively homogeneous forest stands and interpreting their content from medium-scale photographs, to the semi-automatic computer analysis of high spatial resolution multispectral aerial or satellite images on an individual tree crown basis.
  • The CFS has developed a national deforestation monitoring system based on remote sensing. The Deforestation Monitoring group utilizes multiple data sources including satellite imagery, aerial photography, land use records, geospatial databases such as oil and gas facility and forest inventory and field visits, in order to obtain reliable estimates of the extent and nature of deforestation in Canada. This information is fed into the Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector (CBM-CFS3) to estimate greenhouse gas emissions, and is used to fulfill other national and international reporting and analysis requirements.
  • Radar has the advantage of all-weather capability for monitoring, allowing it to acquire images of the Earth day or night, in all weather and through cloud cover, smoke and haze.
  • Multi-source vegetation inventory – Combining several remote sensing technologies to estimate forest inventory attributes will greatly improve resource assessment and reporting in the Northwest Territories.


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