How NASA & India Will Track Deforestation Using NISAR Satellites

The first joint US and Indian space collaboration will scan the Earth's land and ice surface twice every 12 days!

Sun 29 Oct 23


A new global satellite initiative, which, for the first time, will be able to monitor global deforestation in near real-time, is on track for launch in January.

Known as the ‘NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar’ (NISAR), it is a joint initiative between NASA and ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), scanning the Earth’s land and ice surfaces twice every 12 days. 

The project has the backing of US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently signed the Artemis Accords and is part of the commitment of both countries to boost cooperation and explore opportunities in space exploration.

As reported by NASA yesterday, the data collected will track land-cover changes on a global scale. They will help researchers study the impacts of changes in forest area on the carbon cycle.

“It will allow us to get a sweeping perspective of the planet in space and time,” according to Paul Rosen, the project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It can give us a reliable view of exactly how Earth’s land and ice are changing.”

Last week, Wood Central reported that global deforestation is on the rise, with more than 6.6 million hectares of forest lost to deforestation in 2022.

“Off Track and Falling Behind” claims the rate of deforestation was “21% higher than needed to eliminate deforestation by 2030” and that global leaders are failing to meet COP 26 commitments.

According to Anup Das, co-lead of the ISRO NISAR science team in Bangalore, the new satellite will improve understanding of how forest loss influences the carbon cycle and contributes to global warming.

“Globally, we do not understand well the carbon sources and sinks from terrestrial ecosystems, particularly from forests,” Dr Das said. “So we expect that NISAR will greatly help address that, especially in less dense forests, which are more vulnerable to deforestation and degradation.”

Dr Das is a global leader in developing complex algorithms for forest estimation and biomass. Since 2005, he has worked for the Indian Government’s Space Application Centre and received the “Green Asia Award” in 2017.

The project will provide a state-of-the-art radar imaging satellite capable of delivering an unprecedented detailed view of the Earth. 

Besides monitoring deforestation, the satellite will also assist in observing and understanding natural processes on Earth, including ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse, and biological hazards.

The Indian Space Agency ISRO and NASA are working towards a January 2024 launch date. The idea was born in 2014 and is now close to attaining fusion. Footage courtesy of @WION.

According to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, the new satellite system will capture real-time images of what is happening beneath the forest canopy.

‘This advanced technology will enable us to observe the jungle’s undergrowth, making it possible to detect if areas have been burned.”

“This ability to ‘see’ through the dense forest canopy, even under cloud cover, offers a significant breakthrough in forest monitoring technology,” Mr Nelson said.

Conceptualised in 2014, NISAR is the first time the US and Indian space agencies have cooperated in developing hardware for an Earth-observing mission.

JPL, a joint initiative overseen by NASA through the California Institute of Technology, will lead the US component of the project, providing the mission’s L-band SAR.

In addition, NASA will also provide the radar reflector antenna, the deployable boom, a high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid-state recorder, and a payload data subsystem.

The Indian mission will be led by ISRO’s U R Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, which will provide the spacecraft bus, the S-band SAR electronics, the launch vehicle, associated launch services and satellite mission operations.

Brazil has the largest share of global deforestation and, in 2022, was responsible for 43% of the world’s total deforestation.

In the Amazonas state, which is home to over half of Brazil’s intact forests, the rate of deforestation has almost doubled over the past three years.

Deforestation in the Amazonas, Brazil, over the last 20 years.

In recent months, Amazon deforestation has reduced, according to the Brazilian Government, which, in August, signed the “United for Our Forests”, bringing together leaders from 12 countries from the Amazon, the Congo Basin and southeast Asia, three regions to halt deforestation.

Since 1999, Brazil has gathered data on agricultural operations in partnership with the Chinese Space Program (CSP); however, the US Government has pushed Brazil to replace the CSP with the NISAR system.

Mr Nelson claims the new satellites will tackle this issue by adding an “extreme ability to understand what is happening” to the rainforest.


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