Design and Implementation of an Interactive Web-Based Near Real-Time Forest Monitoring System

Arun Kumar Pratihast, Ben DeVries, Valerio Avitabile, Sytze de Bruin, Martin Herold, Aldo Bergsma, Ben Bond-Lamberty
2016 PLoS ONE  
This paper describes an interactive web-based near real-time (NRT) forest monitoring system using four levels of geographic information services: 1) the acquisition of continuous data streams from satellite and community-based monitoring using mobile devices, 2) NRT forest disturbance detection based on satellite time-series, 3) presentation of forest disturbance data through a web-based application and social media and 4) interaction of the satellite based disturbance alerts with the end-user
more » ... ommunities to enhance the collection of ground data. The system is developed using open source technologies and has been implemented together with local experts in the UNESCO Kafa Biosphere Reserve, Ethiopia. The results show that the system is able to provide easy access to information on forest change and considerably improves the collection and storage of ground observation by local experts. Social media leads to higher levels of user interaction and noticeably improves communication among stakeholders. Finally, an evaluation of the system confirms the usability of the system in Ethiopia. The implemented system can provide a foundation for an operational forest monitoring system at the national level for REDD+ MRV applications. Several bilateral and multilateral efforts, such as the World Bank administered Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Programme), and the Norwegian International Climate and Forests Initiative are currently supporting developing countries to prepare Readiness Preparation Proposals for the implementation of REDD+ projects at the national level [8-10]. One of the main tasks for countries participating in REDD+, as requested by the UNFCCC (Decision 2/CP.19) [11] , is to develop an operational, robust, transparent and cost-effective national forest monitoring system (NFMS) that supports measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of actions and achievements of REDD+ activities [12] [13] [14] . Currently most forest monitoring focuses on activity data, i.e. data on forest cover changes [13], and two approaches are used: top-down and bottom-up. The top-down approach utilizes satellite systems [15, 16] whereas the bottom-up approach utilizes ground observation through government agencies [17], community-based monitoring (CBM) [18] , participatory monitoring [19] or volunteered geographic information [20] . Satellite data provide systematic coverage and a higher frequency of acquisition at a low cost, which is crucial for near real-time (NRT) forest monitoring [16, 21] . Recently, efforts have been made to establish an operational timeseries based NRT forest monitoring system [22] . These efforts include the use of optical remote sensing satellites such as MODIS [23, 24] and Landsat [25] . NRT systems contribute to better forest management, allowing governments and local stakeholders to take action to avoid or reduce illegal activities and enhancing transparency in the use of forest resources. However, the operational use of these systems are influenced by several factors such as cloud cover, seasonality and the limited spatial, spectral and temporal resolution of satellite observations that lead to inevitable lag in forest change detection [16, 26] . Furthermore, existing systems are not capable of providing information about forest degradation and regrowth, and do not consider community involvement in ground verification, validation and law-enforcement activities. Bottom-up ground observations have traditionally been produced, analysed, and disseminated by trained experts, often from government agencies. The major drawbacks of bottom-up data are that they are expensive, often not NRT and therefore are not fit for REDD+ MRV needs [14, 27] . In the last few years, CBM has become popular in REDD+ countries as a way to increase local participations and engagements in forest monitoring and management processes [27] [28] [29] [30] . Several transparent, logical, feasible and repeatable methods have been proposed by researchers to demonstrate that communities can contribute to 1) forest carbon stock measurements and emission factor assessments [28, [31] [32] [33] and 2) forest change monitoring (activity data quantification) [31, 34, 35] . Because of communities' presence on the ground, they are able to signal forest change activities (deforestation, forest degradation or reforestation) and provide information such as location, time, size and proximate drivers of the change events on an NRT basis [35] [36] [37] . Modern electronic communication devices, such as smartphones, have simplified efforts in data collection and transmission [31, 38, 39] . However, issues have arisen when integrating CBM data into NFMS including: 1) lack of confidence in the data collection procedure, 2) inconsistent monitoring frequency, 3) limited spatial coverage, 4) variable data quality and 5) lack of trust of data providers [35, [40] [41] [42] . Recent advances in technologies like Web 2.0, GIS, remote sensing, big data processing, mobile devices and social media, on the other hand, have provided possible solutions to these issues [39, 43, 44] . In the past, two independent approaches have been used to monitor the forest of UNESCO Kafa Biosphere Reserve, Ethiopia: remote sensing analysis [45] and community-based monitoring [35] . Both approaches have shown advantages and disadvantages but neither of the approaches were comprehensive enough to monitor all types of forest change (ie. deforestation, forest degradation and reforestation). In the first approach, dense Landsat Normalized Design and Implementation of an IFMS
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150935 pmid:27031694 pmcid:PMC4816390 fatcat:la7upe5mszacblaspmdkuhftli