Argentina counts on new satellite technology to guard forests

  • Saturday 25, July 2020 09:39 AM
  • Argentina counts on new satellite technology to guard forests
Sharjah24 – AFP: Argentina plans to put into orbit a satellite with new precision technology in the coming days, to monitor felling of its native forests round the clock and accurately measure forest carbon stocks in a bid to help curb climate change, scientists said.
The SAOCOM 1B satellite, manufactured in the South American country, is due to be launched between July 25 and 30 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, managed by experts from Argentina's National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE).

The satellite, equipped with the latest technology, represents a huge leap from those that use optical sensors.

SAOCOM 1B's main Earth observation instrument is a radar that works with microwaves in the electromagnetic L-band space, providing information 24/7 about what it can see: soil moisture, crops, forest structure and changes in glaciers.

"There is only one similar satellite developed by the Japanese space agency," Laura Frulla, head of research for the SAOCOM mission, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"It's a very important advance because optical sensors work with sunlight, but microwaves go through clouds, work in rain and don't need light," she added.

The new development comes at a key moment.

"Argentina is not only in a health emergency due to COVID-19 but also in a forestry and climate emergency," warned Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace's forests campaign in Argentina.

A U.N. report published in 2015 identified Argentina as one of the 10 most deforested countries in the world. Between 1990 and 2015, it lost forests equivalent to the size of Scotland.

The decline in forest cover has since slowed but continues, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said this year.

Official figures from the Argentinian government show 182,000 hectares were deforested in 2018 - about half in protected areas - down from 350,000 hectares in 2012.

But in the first half of 2020, with coronavirus restrictions since March making it harder to enforce protection, Argentina lost more forest than in the same period last year, according to Greenpeace, which tracks optical satellite images.

The main causes of deforestation are expansion of soybean cultivation and intensive livestock breeding, as well as forest fires. The Chaco forests are cut down to plant pasture and raise livestock for meat exports to China and the European Union.