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Discover how satellites are already helping to combat illegal deforestation in Brazil

Monitoring the fight against illegal deforestation is largely thanks to technology. And we have some examples of this in Brazil.

In São Paulo, the Environmental Monitoring Project using satellite images (Mais), carried out by the Inspection and Biodiversity Coordination (CFB), was responsible for the observation of no less than 1,360,455 km² of green areas in 2023.

Roughly speaking, this means that every municipality in the state received overflights at least twice a month. No wonder that São Paulo already has more areas being restored than deforested, according to the Palácio dos Bandeirantes Green Panel.

Satellites helped warn of illegal activity in the forests

In 2023, the monitoring resulted in 402 warnings that the CFB sent to the Environmental Police based on changes noted by experts in networks with an area of ​​400 m2 each. A total of 6.18 km2 of signs of illegal repression were detected, of which 1.71 km2 have already been charged. In other words: the on-site inspection carried out by PMAmb confirmed what the examination of the satellite spots revealed. The other party remains under analysis by the Prime Minister and may or may not be fined.

Technology has not been a great ally for authorities to prevent illegal deforestation – Image: PARALAXIS/Shutterstock

Monitoring is carried out throughout the green area of ​​São Paulo and covers the entire area of ​​the state, excluding the metropolitan area with the lowest concentration of greenery.

To do this, the CFB teams rely on combined satellite data from two systems of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Sentinel program: Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 2.

Sentinel 1 consists of two twin satellites that travel in polar orbit every twelve days and are equipped with equipment that can reproduce detailed images of the area even in bad weather.

The Copernicus Sentinel 2 mission also operates with two satellites in polar orbit, one every five days. The equipment is highly accurate for agriculture, forest management and natural disasters.

“The interval between them is five days, making it easier to capture images and reducing the work time previously done by the Landsat satellite, which was carried out with an interval of 16 days,” explains Mais coordinator Rafael Frigério .

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To obtain information, some instruments serve as fundamental allies in addition to satellites. This is the case for Google Earth, maps from the Geographic and Cartographic Institute (IGC), which has a base of 180 satellites, and data from MapBiomas Alerta.

In the first quarter of 2024, there were 418 complaints to MapBiomas and IGC, of ​​which 366 were voiced by the São Paulo Secretariat for Environment, Infrastructure and Logistics, Semil. Complaints sent to Semil’s ombudsman also end up in the database.

Reports of deforestation are aided by satellite images – Image: PARALAXIS – Shutterstock

The recorded images are collected and analyzed, and a before-and-after comparison is made. “In addition to the manual analysis, the department has an NDVI detection system, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, which aims to monitor interference in vegetation,” Frigerio added.

According to the CFB coordinator, the analysis must be thorough, because many of the warnings produced are due to agriculture, the encroachment into the territory of indigenous reserves and even legal repressions, when deforestation is carried out completely clandestinely.

In some cases, detailing of smaller areas is required and when this happens, Semil has drones that serve to show more detail in smaller areas.

At the end of the process of capturing images, hearing complaints and identifying visual changes, audits are performed to check the data.

The information is entered into the Integrated Environmental Management System (Sigam), which generates a police report into the Integrated Military Police Incident System. Then PMAmb is activated and goes to the region. The investigation is carried out and if an environmental crime is found, the person responsible will be charged.

Since 2013, the year the project began, 7,744 complaints have been filed on a total area of ​​7,635 hectares.