The Agriculture and Forest Ecosystems Team analyses a valuable collection of earth observation time series data for regions of Earth characterized by agriculture and forests. The team develops information products and services to support decision makers and scientists concerned with sustainable development.
Examples of satellite-data based products produced by the team for analysing agricultural and forest ecosystems in Germany. From left to right: field crops, grassland mowing frequency, forest canopy loss, vegetation stress.
The team’s research focuses on Earth’s cultivated landscapes and ecosystems that are dedicated to food production and resource provision for an increasing world population. Remote sensing data and information products as well as tools are generated for the sustainable development of arable land, grassland, forests and savannas.
Key thematic fields
Agroecosystems – The team analyses agricultural landscapes and the changes they have experienced over the past decades. Aspects like management practices, utilization intensity, soil characteristics, and ecologically relevant landscape elements, as well as entire agrarian landscape frameworks are quantified and investigated in detail. The focus is on the influence of climate change on agricultural ecosystems and their relevance for agricultural biodiversity, material cycles, food security, and sustainable development.
Forest ecosystems – The team identifies large-scale distribution patterns as well as forest structure and quantifies changes in forests and their condition, forest damage, and biodiversity indicators. Above all, the influence of climate change and human activity on forest ecosystems is determined with special attention paid to ecosystem functions and disruptions.
Sustainable development – The team conceives data foundations to undergird the creation of sustainable adaptation and reduction strategies in agriculture and forestry management. Its information products are relevant for planning, research, private enterprise, public administrative authorities, and establishing policy. They are intended to support knowledge-based decisions in the context of global change with the goal of achieving and maintaining food security, ecosystem functions and services, and biodiversity.
Examples of the team’s satellite-data based products for analysing agricultural and forest ecosystems in various parts of the world. From left to right: extent of tree cover in West Africa, Nile Delta irrigated farming, vegetation index time series for Europe, identifying agricultural areas and wind barriers in South America, land use in the Caucasus, deforestation patterns in Paraguay
Over one third of the global land surface is used for crop and pastural farming. The need for food will continue to dramatically increase also in the future as the global population grows and eating habits change. Food production would need to approximately double by 2050 in order to assure global food security. This situation will be all the more aggravated by climate change and international conflicts. In order to increase food production and make agroecosystems more resilient, a variety of strategies are employed. On the one hand a clear expansion of land devoted to agriculture can be noted, which endangers ecosystems and natural resources. Another option – intensifying agricultural production – often shows likewise negative effects like soil erosion, water and ecosystem stress, and the disruption of material and energy cycles. On the other hand, sustainable intensification approaches take into consideration – in addition to increasing yield without resorting to heretofore unused land – also other aspects like the resource-preserving use of water, nutrients and soil; increased resilience to climate threats and pests; and maintaining important ecosystem functions and services.
Another third of the land surface is used for forestry. This is the diverse habitat of a large number of animal and plant species and important for economic and recreation purposes. Forests have a particularly critical role in global climate since they are carbon sinks as well as a key element of complex matter and energy cycles. Because of the numerous ecosystems services attributed to forests, there is globally high pressure to exploit them. While forested areas in central Europe are in most cases legally protected as long-term forest locations, especially in the global south they are faced with large deforestation challenges. The destruction of forests there for purposes of extracting raw materials or expanding areas for settlements and agriculture is only to a minor extent regulated by concessions. Most deforestation takes place illegally. Forests are also shaped by dynamic processes of change, with natural events like storms, fire, and insect infestation, but also anthropogenic processes like forest restructuring and timber harvesting, playing a role.
The Agriculture and Forest Ecosystems team is working on automated information extraction from earth observation time series in order to monitor long-term and current developments and processes in agricultural and forest ecosystems in the context of global change, and to provide appropriate information products for decision makers and researchers. The team develops methodologies, processing chains, and geoinformation products based on earth observation data from a variety of sensors with different spatial, spectral and temporal characteristics. Priority is placed on evaluating data from the Copernicus-Sentinel and Landsat missions, but mid-resolution MODIS and AVHRR time series as well as hyperspectral and aerial data are also significant resources. The methodological emphasis is on time series analysis and machine learning (artificial intelligence) and on processing large, heterogenous data volumes (big data). As a rule, satellite data are usually augmented by data sets from other disciplines, statistics, and terrain measurements not based on remote sensing. The team focuses on the large challenges facing society with the goal of supporting sustainable development aimed at food security and resilient ecosystems.
The Agriculture and Forest Ecosystems team