Satellite applications for sustainable forestry

European forests are multifunctional, providing a range of ecosystem services contributing to climate neutrality. If managed sustainably, forests not only play an indispensable role in climate and biodiversity protection, but also in social and economic activities. On 17 December 2020, FOREST EUROPE published the State of Europe’s Forests 2020 report (SoEF 2020) which presents official figures and information on European forests, their management, policies, institutional and legal frameworks. The report shows several positive developments such as an increase of European forest area, a growth in volume of wood and the weight of carbon stored in European forests, and an increase of forest area designated for biodiversity conservation. On the other hand, the report finds that European forests are increasingly facing challenges. The main pressures arise from societal demands and climate change impacts. A growing frequency of large-scale forest disturbances has been observed recently, including extreme droughts, heat waves, bark beetle outbreaks, and forest fires.

Sustainable forestry will be key to tackle the challenges that forests are facing. In practice, this means using forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil relevant ecological, economic and social functions. Satellite data can help forest owners and managers to implement a more sustainable way of working. A prime example would be Copernicus imagery providing periodic and global coverage for forest monitoring. The database of Eurisy success stories of operational satellite services further demonstrates the large amount of possibilities of satellite solutions, a few examples include: identify illegal logging, mapping land cover and use, environmental planning, fire detection, and geolocating trees for educational purposes.

Forest monitoring

Bojan Tubic from the Serbian Public Enterprise Vojvodinasume gave a presentation about remote sensing applied in forest management optimising forest functions. Among the different types of remote sensing, Vojvodinasume relies on satellite imagery to monitor disturbance such as fires, droughts, storms, biotic damages, and harvesting operations. “We use it because it decreases the cost of data collection, while increasing the accuracy and providing additional information. Most importantly, it enables us to respond quickly. The Copernicus programme even provides freely available data such as for tree cover density and forest type, which are excellent tools for large scale operations.” Read more about their use case in this success story.

Forest trafficability

Mikko Strahlendorff from the Finnish Meteorological Institute introduced the audience to Forestry conditions – climate service, a pilot within e-shape which is a European project fostering the development of Earth Observation services. The Earth observation product presented tackles the challenges of forest trafficability. Forestry machines can easily weigh up to 20 tons and operating them through forest land can lead to compact soil which is bad for forest growth. The solution is designed for forestry operators to identify areas with the best possible soil type to plan longer ahead good forest trafficability conditions. The service ( produces seasonal forecasts relying on Copernicus Climate Change Services, allowing predictions about frozen soil depth, snow and moisture. Since its launch in May 2020, the service has been improved, for example with a forest fire warning map, and expanded to the whole of Europe.

Forest inventory

Edo Loenen from S[&]T presented product line Silvisense, providing forest owners with a digital service to monitor the state of their forest inventory offering regular tracking and detection of changes such as clear-cuts, disease outbreaks, forest fires, and altered land use. An important step to improve the reliability of the data includes cloud classification, determining the percentage covered by clouds in order to optimally combine the satellite imagery. The resulting data feeds into a land cover classification, and this allows for a distinction between urban regions and areas with vegetation. By comparing images and changes over time, activities such as clear-cuts can be automatically detected. Another application within the Silvisense product line looks at the state of forests. This application is being developed under the FOCUS project funded by the European Research Council and relies on Sentinel-2 data to detect disease outbreaks.

Marine Utgé-Royo from Tesselo, a Portuguese company providing geospatial intelligence for sustainable forestry, elaborated on the role of the company in this Sentinel Benefit study. To support its pulp and paper industry, the Portuguese industry association CELPA collaborates with Tesselo to monitor a country-wide scale the state of the tree plantations. To this end, the company relies on the augmentation of open satellite imagery from the Copernicus programme with artificial intelligence. The result is a national forest inventory, including a classification of land use and cover, monthly cut progression, and burnt areas. Futhermore, Tesselo is working on the RePLANT project related to forest fire risk management, and other environmental forest applications such as forest insurance, carbon sequestration, and reforestation.

Funding & innovation opportunities

The upcoming Horizon Europe programme will be divided into several clusters which will then include subcategories or “destinations”. Cluster 6 “Food, Bioeconomy, Natural resources, Agriculture and Environment” for example will have a destination later this year about biodiversity and ecosystem services, and another in 2022 about circular economy and bioeconomy sectors. Following this link, the European Space Agency also offers permanently open calls for proposals.

One-minute pitches

Jukka Miettinen from VTT Finland highlighted Forestry TEP, an online platform for Earth observation based forest monitoring aiming to maximise the usability and benefits of cloud processing for forestry stakeholders.

Federico Franciamore presented Space4Good and the model they developed to analyse the risk of bark beetle outbreaks with sentinel-2 imagery.

Julia Yagüe presented the product portfolio of Earth observation services for silviculture within the My Sustainable Forest H2020 project.

Finally, Arnis Kadakovskis from Remote sensing group at Institute of Electronics and Computer Science, delivered a pitch about IEC Woodstock, a satellite-based forest inventory service.

Stay tuned!

You can now register for our next session Space for Mobility, which will take place on 7 April 2021!

In the meantime, feel free to join us on the Open Campus Forum where you will find more information about the previous sessions and where you can get access to all recordings & presentations.