June 17, 2008

Space Cameras To Monitor Rain Forests

A new state-of-the-art camera onboard a satellite will be used to monitor deforestation levels in Africa's Congo Basin.

RALCam3, a high-resolution camera, designed and built by UK scientists, will provide the first detailed view of the area's rate of forest cover loss.

The project is part of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, a £108m joint-initiative by the UK and Norwegian governments to fund aims to curb climate change by preventing deforestation in the region.

"We are pledging to work together to secure the future of one of the world's last remaining ancient forests," said UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"Preserving our forests is vital if we are going to reduce global emissions and tackle climate change."

The second largest rainforest in the word, the Congo, contains more than a quarter of the planet's remaining tropical rainforest.

The Congo is home to more than 50 million people, and supports an estimated 10,000 plant species, as well as 1,000 types of birds and 400 different kinds of mammals.

Unless action is taken to tackle deforestation in the region, more than 66% of the rainforest would be lost by 2040, according to a UN study.

A team at the UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) made the high-definition cameras.

Nick Waltham, head of RAL's Imaging Systems Division, said they were "delighted" to be involved in such an important and timely event.

"RALCam3 will provide 10-metre per pixel ground sampling from an orbit of 650 km (400 miles) altitude," he said.

"The image [width] is 88km (55 miles) thereby enabling large areas of the terrain to be imaged in one satellite pass."

The system would also have other applications, including surveillance of environmental change and offshore pollution, according to Waltham.

The camera is one of the first projects to be supported by the fund, which is headed by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

"The Congo Basin Forest Fund is a joint response to a global problem whereby an innovative and consensual mechanism has been embraced," said Professor Maathai.

He added: "It involves various partners committed to preserve and protect one of the most unique ecosystems in the world."


On the Net:

Congo Basin Forest Fund

UK Department for International Development