Forest degradation is a global phenomenon and while being an important indicator and precursor to further forest loss, carbon emissions due to degradation should also be accounted for in national reporting within the frame of UN REDD+. At regional to country scales, methods have been progressively developed to detect and map forest degradation, with these based on multi-resolution optical, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and/or LiDAR data. However, there is no one single method that can be applied to monitor forest degradation, largely due to the specific nature of the degradation type or process and the timeframe over which it is observed. The review assesses two main approaches to monitoring forest degradation: first, where detection is indicated by a change in canopy cover or proxies, and second, the quantification of loss (or gain) in above ground biomass (AGB). The discussion only considers degradation that has a visible impact on the forest canopy and is thus detectable by remote sensing. The first approach encompasses methods that characterise the type of degradation and track disturbance, detect gaps in, and fragmentation of, the forest canopy, and proxies that provide evidence of forestry activity. Progress in these topics has seen the extension of methods to higher resolution (both spatial and temporal) data to better capture the disturbance signal, distinguish degraded and intact forest, and monitor regrowth. Improvements in the reliability of mapping methods are anticipated by SAR-optical data fusion and use of very high resolution data. The second approach exploits EO sensors with known sensitivity to forest structure and biomass and discusses monitoring efforts using repeat LiDAR and SAR data. There has been progress in the capacity to discriminate forest age and growth stage using data fusion methods and LiDAR height metrics. Interferometric SAR and LiDAR have found new application in linking forest structure change to degradation in tropical forests. Estimates of AGB change have been demonstrated at national level using SAR and LiDAR-assisted approaches. Future improvements are anticipated with the availability of next generation LiDAR sensors. Improved access to relevant satellite data and best available methods are key to operational forest degradation monitoring. Countries will need to prioritise their monitoring efforts depending on the significance of the degradation, balanced against available resources. A better understanding of the drivers and impacts of degradation will help guide monitoring and restoration efforts. Ultimately we want to restore ecosystem service and function in degraded forests before the change is irreversible.
- Above-ground biomass
- Carbon emissions
- Measurement reporting and verification