Forest loss maps from regional satellite monitoring systematically underestimate deforestation in two rapidly changing parts of the Amazon

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Abstract

Accurate, consistent reporting of changing forest area, stratified by forest type, is required for all countries under their commitments to the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC 2015). Such change reporting may directly impact on payments through comparisons to national Reference (Emissions) Levels under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) framework. The emergence of global, satellite-based forest monitoring systems, including Global Forest Watch (GFW) and FORMA, have great potential in aiding this endeavour. However, the accuracy of these systems has been questioned and their uncertainties are poorly constrained, both in terms of the spatial extent of forest loss and timing of change. Here, using annual time series of 5-m optical imagery at two sites in the Brazilian Amazon, we demonstrate that GFW more accurately detects forest loss than the coarser-resolution FORMA or Brazil's national-level PRODES product, though all underestimate the rate of loss. We conclude GFW provides robust indicators of forest loss, at least for larger-scale forest change, but under-predicts losses driven by small-scale disturbances (< 2 ha), even though these are much larger than its minimum mapping unit (0.09 ha).
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Early online date6 Jul 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2017

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