Global Forest Resources Assessments

Expert meeting on the role of satellite images in future Global Forest Resources Assessments

Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) 2025 Remote Sensing Expert Meeting

Forest space observations in perspective

The role of satellite images in future Global Forest Resources Assessments

20 September 2022 – Around forty representatives from Universities, research centers and space agencies gathered in a consultation organized by FAO on 19 and 20 September 2022 to improve the future remote sensing work under the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA). 

The international experts met to provide methodological guidance and advice on remote sensing to FAO’s FRA. Participants presented recent geospatial data and products as well as methodologies and innovative technologies to support land cover and use analysis and discussed possible collaborations in the context of the next FRA reporting cycle. 

The organizations engaged in the consultation included the European Space Agency, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Spatial Informatics Group and the Universities of Aberystwyth, Copenhagen, Maryland, New York. Most of the experts attended the meeting at FAO premises in Rome, while the others joined virtually.

The meeting provided an opportunity to review the approach and methodology applied in the FRA 2020 Remote Sensing Survey (RSS) and share the lessons learned, including on the statistical sampling design, photointerpretation and accuracy assessment. The experts discussed options for expanding the scope of FRA RSS to assess further deforestation drivers, trees outside forests, forest degradation and restoration at global, regional and biome levels. They also explored the possibility to develop a map of the world's forests based on FRA remote sensing data using deep learning technologies.

Satellite images to monitor forest ecosystems

FAO’s FRA collects, analyses and disseminates statistical information on the world's forest resources through a global network of officially nominated National Correspondents. The data collection and reporting cover all thematic elements of Sustainable Forest Management. FRA is also responsible for reporting two forest-related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 – Life on Land, 15.1.1. Forest area as a percentage of total land area, and 15.2.1. Progress towards sustainable forest management. 

Since 1990, FAO complements the information collected through the country reporting process with global and regional analyses of forest resources using remote sensing. The recent and rapid development of affordable cloud-based solutions for storing, accessing and analyzing remote sensing data and products has drastically facilitated remote sensing-based assessments, even in developing countries with low technical capacity and computing infrastructure. 

In recent remote sensing surveys, FAO teamed up with networks of national experts. While the experts’ local knowledge of the landscape and dynamics helped improve and validate the quality of collected data, FAO officers shared technology and developed capacities to use innovative remote sensing methodologies and tools for national forest monitoring. 

“Freely available satellite data and products and the tools for their analysis are changing the way we can monitor forest ecosystems. As a result, more and more countries have geospatial data to share. In the coming Global Forest Resources Assessments, the countries will have the opportunity to share also geospatial data through the FRA platform. This is a further step to increasing transparency and accessibility of best available forest data”, Anssi Pekkarinen, FAO Senior Forestry Officer said.

The remote sensing work under the Global Forest Resources Assessment is conducted with the financial support of the European Union and the Governments of Finland and Norway.

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