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Scientists win 'Space Oscar'

8th November 2017


Professor Heiko Balzter

Research that has led to a mobile app to help combat illegal logging has been recognised internationally. Professor Heiko Balzter from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment and researchers Dr Ciaran Robb and Dr Pedro Rodriguez-Veiga have been recognised with an international award for pioneering research to reduce the devastating effects of deforestation.

The Copernicus Masters is an international competition which awards prizes to innovative solutions, developments and ideas for business and society based on Earth observation data.

Professor Balzter and his team have won the prestigious Sustainable Living Challenge 2017 award by the Satellite Applications Catapult, under the umbrella of Copernicus, the European Programme for Earth Observation.

 The prize is awarded for Forest Sentinel, a system that sends out rapid deforestation alerts to a mobile app and enables communication with hundreds and thousands of app users in the field via a central dashboard. This enables effective protection of forest assets from illegal logging.
 
Near-real-time deforestation alerts are sent to the app whenever a new satellite image is acquired, every five days once the two satellites Sentinel-2 A and B are fully operational, within 24 hours of imaging. They are pushed to a big data analytics engine where they can be accessed via a user-friendly dashboard.
 
This system provides near-real-time deforestation alerts - and unprecedented spatial resolution of 10 metres allows detection of small-scale forest degradation and selective logging of single large trees in tropical rainforests.
 
The research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
 
Professor Balzter said: “We want to achieve a breakthrough in the fight against illegal logging with the Forest Sentinel system. The powerful integration of satellite images with a mobile phone app and a big data analytics capability provides a step change in the ability of organisations to respond effectively to the loss of forest land.
 
“The system has been designed with the needs of user organisations at the forefront of our thinking. The Kenya Forest Service and the forestry stakeholder organisations there have helped in defining what it is the service needs to deliver. We are also grateful to our industry partner Ukall Ltd in Nairobi with whom we have solved the integration of satellite information with a powerful app-based communication system.”






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