Monitoring natural capital from space

Landsat TM5 2011
Landsat TM5 2011
There is an increasingly growing interest in valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to safeguard natural systems against degradation, and to help prioritise their protection against other important societal, economic and political concerns. This process requires a clear concept of which elements of nature are present on Earth, and in what amounts.

To this end, the concept of Natural Capital (NC) is very useful; NC represents the Earth’s natural stock and the goods and services it yields over time. For example, the stock of an old-growth forest can yield a variety of goods and services, including timber or wild food, climate regulation, and protection against hurricanes or soil erosion. The main advantage of NC over other frameworks is that it can quantify nature indiscriminately; it encompasses all elements present on Earth and their yield, regardless of whether they are of use to the human population today.

Landsat TM5 2011It is now widely acknowledged that we are currently experiencing unprecedented rates of global environmental change. Those changes are threatening the Earth’s NC and its ability to provide goods and services today and into the future. Hence, maintaining the health and integrity of NC is central to safeguard future human well-being. However, NC cannot be managed or protected efficiently unless we know what stocks and flows are available, where they are distributed and how global environmental change is affecting them. Moreover, not only do we need a tool to accurately measure NC stocks and flows, but the assessment needs to be performed at the global scale. This means that measures have to be repeatable and comparable between different regions of the world, but also transparent, verifiable and ideally performed relatively cheaply. Remote sensing, or satellite-derived measures, is a crucial tool in meeting those requirements.

This project, “Monitoring Natural Capital from Space”, makes use of freely-available remote sensing products, such as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), Landsat and the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) to quantify NC by, for example, deriving information on the structure of the environment and calculating vegetation indices like the Normalized Differenced Vegetation Index (NDVI) that serves as an indicator of the productivity and state of vegetation.

As a case study area this project is focusing on the NC of Kenya, a country known for its huge savannas and mangroves which contain a high level of biodiversity.

For further information on this project, contact Dr Nathalie Pettorelli

Useful links: