Forest disturbance alerts for the Congo Basin using Sentinel-1

Johannes Reiche*, Adugna Mullissa, Bart Slagter, Yaqing Gou, Nandin-Erdene Tsendbazar, Christelle Odongo-Braun, Andreas Vollrath, Mikaela J. Weisse, Fred Stolle, Amy Pickens, Gennadii Donchyts, Nicholas Clinton, Noel Gorelick, Martin Herold

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


A humid tropical forest disturbance alert using Sentinel-1 radar data is presented for the Congo Basin. Radar satellite signals can penetrate through clouds, allowing Sentinel-1 to provide gap-free observations for the tropics consistently every 6–12 days at 10 m spatial scale. In the densely cloud covered Congo Basin, this represents a major advantage for the rapid detection of small-scale forest disturbances such as subsistence agriculture and selective logging. Alerts were detected with latest available Sentinel-1 images and results are presented from January 2019 to July 2020. We mapped 4 million disturbance events during this period, totalling 1.4 million ha with nearly 80% of events smaller than 0.5 ha. Monthly distribution of alert totals varied widely across the Congo Basin countries and can be linked to regional differences in wet and dry season cycles, with more forest disturbances in the dry season. Results indicated high user's and producer's accuracies and the rapid confirmation of alerts within a few weeks. Our disturbance alerts provide confident detection of events larger than or equal to 0.2 ha but do not include smaller events, which suggests that disturbance rates in the Congo Basin are even higher than presented in this study. The new alert product can help to better study the forest dynamics in the Congo Basin with improved spatial and temporal detail and near real-time detections, and highlights the value of dense Sentinel-1 time series data for large-area tropical forest monitoring. The research contributes to the Global Forest Watch initiative in providing timely and accurate information to support a wide range of stakeholders in sustainable forest management and law enforcement. The alerts are available via the and
Original languageEnglish
Article number024005
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Congo Basin
  • Deforestation
  • Forest disturbance alerts
  • Humid tropical forest
  • Near real-time
  • Radar
  • Sentinel-1


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