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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Unmanned aerial systems-based assessment of tree cover and deforestation dynamics in Bangladesh

PI: A.B.M Kamal Pasha,, Daffodil International University
U.S. Partner: Demetrios Gatziolis, The United States Forest Service
Project dates: December 2017 - June 2022

Project Overview:

6-009 DIU team site visit  
USAID and NAS team visiting PI Dr. Pasha at DIU, Bangladesh, November 2019
6-009 Mangrove forest  
Study area (red oval) in the Sundarbans (mangrove) forest of Bangladesh [courtesy of Dr. Pasha]  
6-009 entering the mangroves  
The team enters Mangrove forest in the Sundarbans. Photo credit: Lina Stankute-Alexander (NAS) November 2019  
6-009 drone launch in action1  
The main advantages of photogrammetry based on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) compared to traditional aircraft imaging campaigns are low cost and flexibility. In addition, aircraft-based image acquisition usually requires months of planning and must cover a substantial area to justify the cost. UAVs can be deployed at a moment’s notice and require practically no maintenance. They can also be deployed at easily customizable above-canopy altitude, camera orientation, trajectory, and speed. They are thus ideal for imaging small areas of forests, such as over individual tree stands, management units or inventory plots (Gatziolis et al., 2015). Most developing countries do not yet have the capacity or knowledge base to support modern forest inventories and typically depend on satellite imagery and applications developed elsewhere to meet their needs, including the obligation to report on the status of their forests if they participate in the international REDD initiative. Satellite-based assessment is adequate in many instances—for example, to assess deforestation in the Amazon basin. It can be problematic and biased, however, when the anthropogenic interventions and ensuing disturbances are either gradual or have a spatial footprint much smaller than the resolution of the satellite imagery employed. The advent of novel, inexpensive technologies, including UAVs, and the development of affordable software capable of performing complex photogrammetric tasks hold promising potential into assisting the assessment of forest resources in developing countries and facilitating their verifiable participation in efforts to mitigate the effects of deforestation and forest degradation.

In this project, the PI and his team will devise and optimize a fully-automated UAV-based image acquisition protocol compatible with generating comprehensive (gap-free), high-density, precisely geo-referenced point clouds representing forest canopies for areas centered on selected locations in the Sal and Sundarbans forest types that host national forest inventory plots of the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD). The researchers will generate canopy surface and canopy height rasters for each selected inventory plot and its surroundings, as well as estimates of canopy cover for each subplot of every selected inventory plot, and compare them to those obtained by inventory personnel during field visits. Using the data they will gather, they will develop forest type-specific models of forest biomass and outline a framework for forest change detection and quantification based on periodic satellite imagery and incorporating UAV-derived information over selected areas. Methodologies, findings, and results will be shared with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, representatives of the U.S. Government technical cooperative program SilvaCarbon in Bangladesh, BFD officials, and ultimately the public.

2021 Project updates
The PEER team resumed planning and execution of the fieldtrips to collect data in the Sundarbans. The plots were carefully selected to encompass all three saline zones of the Sundarbans' forest, and trip logistics were finalized with the help of USAID Bangladesh Mission. During February 2021 expedition the team covered a wide range of different forest plots from Tambulbunia, Horintana, Shapla, Kokilmoni, Dubla, Harbaria, Jhapshi, Nondobala, Moraposhur and Hiron point forest range. The team observed unexpected findings in terms of tree composition and variation. After the expedition, the team moved on to raw data processing in partnership with Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) with whom they now share data collection methods and hardware to conduct research. The most recent expedition to the Sundarbans took place in December 2021.

In terms of outreach and collaboration, the project team continue their partnership with the Bangladesh Forest Department. The PEER team shared with BFD their data analysis methods and helped BFD develop and train their drone patrol team, which recently commissioned a new drone for patrolling the Sundarbans with technical advice by the PEER team. According to Dr. Pasha, this was a huge milestone for BFD and for the PEER team ever since the drone regulation law was passed in Bangladesh in 2020, following the team's year-long efforts for passing of such legislation.  As part of the ongoing partnership, PEER team continues to rely on BFD's commitment to give PEER team access to BFD's central remote sensing lab where the team can access the needed data and conduct post-campaign data processing and analysis.
 6-009 Pasha Ambassador site visit
Mission Director (MD) Derrick S. Brown and U.S. Ambassador Earl. R. Miller visit the Sundarbans site with the PEER team, January 2020. Photo credit: Dr. Pasha (DIU)
6-009 Jawad and ambassador
U.S. Ambassador Earl. R. Miller and PEER project team member Jawadul Gani (DIU) in the Sundarbans
6-009 drone launch in action2
Drone launch in the Sundarbans.  November 2019 NAS and USAID site visit