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CSIRO signs agreement for forest mapping

The European Space Agency launched its latest satellite, Sentinel-2, which will collect data on the world’s crops to help predict food shortages. Source: ABC Rural

At the Paris Air Show, Australia’s lead scientific body, the CSIRO, signed an agreement with the European Space Agency allowing scientists to collaborate on researching the data in the images sent back by the satellites.

Europe’s new Biomass mission is aimed at improving forest mapping, crop forecasts, and other measurements of natural vegetation and their carbon stocks.

“The collaboration with the European Space Agency further strengthens Australia’s ability to do world class research and innovation, and also strengthens our global position in the space economy,” said CSIRO’s executive director of national facilities and collections Dr David Williams, who signed the agreement for CSIRO.

The 130 tonne satellite rocket was launched from French Guiana, and has cameras to measure light reflected by chlorophyll in plants and areas where forests have been cleared.

The World Food Programme will use the data to forecast bad harvests, and reduce speculation on world food markets, which can send prices skyrocketing.

“We have 13 spectral bands including four in the so-called ‘red edge’ where plants, and chlorophyll for example, reflect light – and this shows us what plants are doing,” explained Professor Volker Liebig, the director of earth observation at the European Space Agency (Esa).

“This is especially important for food monitoring and, for me, food security applications will be among Sentinel-2’s most important uses.

“It will help the World Food Programme forecast bad harvests, and reduce, let’s say, speculation on world food markets, which always costs lives because it sends prices skyrocketing even when there are enough cereals to go around,” he told the BBC.

Dr Alex Held heads the CSIRO Land and Water Flagship says the imaging will measure the chlorophyll in plants.

“Chlorophyll is what plants use to capture light, produce carbohydrate and nutrition which they use to grow.

“The satellite measurements of chlorophyll will see the health of the plant, to predict how much biomass they’re producing, and using models to calculate how much the crops will yield,” said Dr Held.

The data gathered will be independent of what is reported by governments or businesses with vested interests in their own grain crops.

“Satellites don’t respect borders, they fly over earth and can monitor crops anywhere on earth.

“They can monitor droughts or other disasters on crops, so we can predict yields, and avoid spikes in prices of certain commodities.”

The CSIRO’s robot Outback Rover will move across dry salt lakes, to help calibrate the amount of light that hits the earth.

“It’s really exciting for the CSIRO,” he said.

“It opens the doors for our scientists, and might also help us design the new generation satellites 15 years from now, to customise them and make them even more applicable to Australian conditions.”