ForestTECH is this region’s premier technology series. It’s run for Australasia’s forest resource managers, planners and inventory foresters by the Forest Industry Engineering Association (FIEA). Since 2007, it’s the one event every year run in both Australia and New Zealand that focuses on this particular part of the forestry industry. Forest owners, forestry mangers, key researchers and technology providers are also now picking up the opportunity of building in their own client meetings, workshops and discussion groups around the event.
The forestry industry is always looking for technology innovation and many areas within Australia and New Zealand have already adopted the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) within their survey and analysis processing chain. Innovation and research and development are key to keeping one step ahead of your competitors through enhancing decision support. Remote sensing, particularly satellite imagery, has historically not been used as a main stream of information for the forestry industry for three main reasons:
- Resolution of the imagery;
- Frequency of collection; and
Satellite imagery has traditional been divided into high resolution (30cm to 1.5m pixel size) and medium resolution (5m to 10m pixel size). High-resolution imagery is an excellent source of data, but unfortunately due to the nature of forestry areas are often very large and cover wide spaces throughout the landscape. This poses a problem with regards to data collection as often these satellites are unable to collect the data on a regular basis and as such they don’t provide a stable monitoring solution. This means that the high-resolution satellite imagery is ideal for targeting areas within the plantation that require high-resolution as well as making use of this imagery to provide compartment/stand boundary and road network updates. Digital Globe has also just recently launched EarthWatch; a streaming basemap product that allows the end user to get access to all historical as well as current imagery at a subscription that best meets their needs. Having such a basemap for forestry with rolling updates as and when they occur provides an excellent base for forestry operations.
The lower the resolution the less accuracy one can expect, however when we have a look at the medium satellite resolution products we can expect a higher rate of capture and cheaper cost of capture…but is the resolution of the imagery good enough for analytics? The answer is not an easy one, but rather depends on what you are looking to achieve. In short, you can typically get an image over your area of interest once a week with a resolution of between 5m to 10m meaning that the pixel will represent between 25sqm to 100sqm on the ground. When looking at forestry, having an image once a week with those resolutions will be acceptable but not ideal. Cloud cover can prove in many cases to be problematic as these satellite sensors typically provide imagery on a set schedule. Therefore, should clouds be present at the time of collection then you as the end user will simply have to wait until the next capture and hope for better weather conditions.
The emergence of 3m satellite imagery that is collected on a daily basis has proven to be a real game changer; not in terms of the resolution of the imagery but more so on the frequency of capture and price point. The imagery is collected on a daily basis for the entire earth’s land mass, which means as a forester you can to a certain extent not worry too much about cloud cover as you will receive a new image every single day. Forestry managers can now see what is happening in-field daily and make better decisions based on actual data. But this is still merely imagery with no real value – unless you can transform this big data into valuable knowledge for the end user to help improve decision support.
Often the solution is a combination of remote sensing techniques and traditional sensors to provide the end client with actionable intelligence that can be used to improve the efficiency of the operations. In Swift Geospatial’s case, we find that spatial technology is continuously moving, and it is this continuous need for improvement in our service to our clients that drives us. Although the data is derived from satellite sensors, it is the industry that is evolving and challenging the outputs that one can calculate from these sensors. Swift Geospatial has worked closely with leading forestry companies within Southern Africa to help achieve these required goals.