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User-Friendly Forest-Monitoring Technology

Forest-monitoring technology developed by scientists at Carnegie Institute’s Department of Global Ecology combines free satellite imagery and powerful analytical methods into an easy-to-use, desktop software package called CLASlite. The team announced its new web site for CLASlite users today, at the Copenhagen climate meetings.

Tropical forest destruction accounts for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Quantifying these emissions has not been easy, especially for tropical nations. So far, 70 government, non-government, and academic organizations in five countries have adopted CLASlite.

To support international policy discussions and solve on-the-ground needs for forest monitoring, CLASlite is being rapidly disseminated through a tailored, demand-driven technology transfer to government, academic, and non-government institutions of the Andes and Amazon regions.

“We’re providing CLASlite to support the U.N. program for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation and other tropical forest monitoring efforts,” said Greg Asner, lead scientist for the CLASlite project. “My team has already trained more than 240 users from 70 organizations in the Andes-Amazon region, and we will do more workshops in 2010.”


CLASlite is a software package designed to automatically identify deforestation and forest degradation from satellite imagery. The software can convert seemingly green “carpets” of dense tropical forest cover in raw satellite images into highly detailed maps that can be readily searched for deforestation, logging, and other types of forest degradation.

CLASlite is also a key component of a cost-effective new method developed by Carnegie that integrates satellite and airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) mapping to support high-resolution forest carbon mapping.

Carnegie teamed up with Google.org to provide CLASlite Online, which will greatly extend the ability of users to monitor their forests.

"This type of imagery data — past, present and future — is available all over the globe. Even so, while today you can view deforestation in Google Earth, until now there hasn't been a way to measure it," said Rebecca Moore, Engineering Manager of Google.org.

“Working with Carnegie and others, we have developed a prototype imagery analysis engine to power forest-monitoring systems such as CLASlite Online. By providing computational horsepower and easy access to massive data sets, this new technology will dramatically lower the cost and complexity for tropical nations to monitor their forests using CLASlite and other forest analysis programs,” stated Amy Luers, Senior Environment Program Manager for Google.org.

In 2010, the group plans to extend the training and technology transfer to other countries in the Amazon region. As a Google.org product, CLASlite Online will be provided to the world as a not-for-profit service.

(Carnegie Institute)(CLASlite)(Google)