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Report No. 54

Applications of High Resolution Remote Sensing in Rainforest Ecology and Management

Research Report
David S. Gillieson, Tina. J. Lawson and Les Searle
ISBN 0 86443 770 6

A new generation of satellite sensors has vastly improved spatial and spectral resolution, with additional radiometric resolution to 11-bit data (2048 grey levels). Repeat coverage is possible at 3-5 day intervals, making them ideal for assessing rapid environmental changes, such as fires and floods. Quickbird and IKONOS sensors have spatial resolutions of 0.6 to 1 m in panchromatic and 2.5 to 4 m (respectively) in multispectral mode. Spectrally, four bands from visible blue to near infra-red are available, with good separation and narrow bandwidth. For the first time we are thus able to resolve features down to the size of individual tree canopies.

In this report we provide a number of examples using high resolution imagery to illustrate various methods of digital image analysis. All are drawn from research carried out since year 2000 in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area under the auspices of the Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management (Rainforest CRC) in Cairns, North Queensland. Studies include the use of high resolution remote sensing for mapping weeds, dieback, forest fires and riparian vegetation change. In addition, we report on the use of high resolution imagery for mapping the canopy connectivity across roads.

The challenges remaining for researchers are to evaluate new image classification methodologies, such as object oriented classifiers, to rainforest environments and to further refine the models that relate forest structural and physiological parameters to remotely sensed data. For managers, there needs to be an acceptance of what remote sensing can and cannot do in evaluating environmental impacts and land use change. Thus researchers and managers need to form strategic alliances to guide research and to inform government policy on remote sensing and its applications.

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