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Space Race

George Hackford

30th July, 2008

The Brazilian Space Agency and Britain’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory are planning to boldly go into new realms of space-based rainforest protection.

The two institutions are collaborating to launch Amazonia-I, scheduled to blast off from Brazil in 2011. Amazonia-I will take pictures of rainforests worldwide, providing scientists, researchers and conservationists with invaluable information about the state of the Earth’s ‘lungs’.

The idea of monitoring rates of deforestation and environmental degradation from space is not a new one. Several previous rainforest-policing satellite projects include TREES (Tropical Ecosystem Environment observation by Satellite), launched by the former Space Applications Institute; NASA’s Modis satellite network, utilised by scientists from South Dakota State University; and the CBERS programme, which is a joint venture of remote-sensing Earth observation satellites between Brazil and China. These projects show the huge benefits of analysing data from rainforest satellite imagery and have paved the way for an increase in technology and potential.

Enter Amazonia-I. The satellite promises be able to provide much more in depth imagery and detail. Orbiting Earth 14 times a day at a height of 400 miles, Amazonia-I will send images down to satellite ground stations, which will then be analysed in detail. The orbiter is to be equipped with three cameras, two Brazilian and one British, the latter accurate to within just ten metres of terrain.

Amazonia-I will aid environmental observation and allow for the management of natural resources, yet its main power lies in being able to track urban expansion and identify illegal activity, such as logging, in rainforests. This constant policing from above provides a new and powerful weapon in the fight against climate change and deforestation.

The initiative will focus on the world’s two largest rainforests, the Amazon and the Congo, as these areas are where some of the greatest destruction is occurring. Almost half of deforested land worldwide between 2000 and 2005 was in Brazil, and due to the size of the country, keeping track of activity in the rainforests proved difficult. Amazonia-I, in keeping a constant vigil over the rainforests, will show the extent of the damage and help us to take steps against it.

The area to be tracked in Africa, the Congo rainforest, spans six different countries and will be monitored not only for deforestation but also for pollution levels.

It is to be hoped that the Amazonia-1 project will be not only a major step in the world’s fight against climate change, but also a real demonstration of the importance of international collaboration. UK financial and technical assistance means that Brazil is now increasingly able to tackle an issue which had previously looked hopeless.

Loggers, watch out. Very soon, you will have nowhere to hide. In the meantime, both countries involved should remember that Amazonia-I is, after all, only a tool – it remains to be seen whether it is used effectively to tackle the issue on the ground.

 

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