Mangroves & remote sensing – a perfect match!

By Ruben Van De Kerchove 09 October 2017

Mangroves are somewhat strange, exotic ecosystems, but they are crucial to our planet. Monitoring mangroves is therefore essential in understanding climate change. Remote sensing is the perfect way not to get stuck in the mud or be eaten by crocodiles. I’ll explain you why.

The essential role of mangroves

Mangroves are often associated with tropical paradises or Robinson Crusoe islands. They are also of paramount importance for each of us. In fact, mangrove forests provide numerous ecosystem services that contribute to human wellbeing:

  • protection from storms and sea level rise
  • prevention of shoreline erosion
  • regulation of coastal water quality
  • provision of habitat for fisheries and endangered marine species
  • food security
Mangroves also store so-called "blue" carbon from the atmosphere and oceans and so they are an essential piece of the solution to global climate change.

Landsat time series showing deforestation and regeneration  in a mangrove forest in Malaysia.


But mangroves are also one of the most threatened tropical ecosystems in the world.  More than 35% of the world’s mangroves has disappeared over the last years and it is continuing to do so at an alarming rate. It has been shown that mangrove deforestation generates around 10% of CO2 emissions from deforestation globally, although they account for just 0.7% of tropical forest area.
So we need to monitor the remaining mangrove forests using reliable and current information on the extent and state of mangroves to ensure their sustainable management.

Towards sustainable mangrove management

VITO remote sensing helps in quantifying changes and losses in mangrove cover using optical and RADAR remote sensing imagery. This makes changes in species composition, structure and biomass of mangroves assessment possible. These changes can be tracked back to the 70’s, using historic Landsat satellite data. RADAR can be used to measure the above ground biomass of mangroves and mangrove height. By combining  this information, a detailed description of the state of mangroves is provided which can be used in achieving a sustainable mangrove management

Visit our website to find out more 
about remote sensing for vegetation, land use and biodiversity.

Series of optical  and radar satellite images  for mangrove management
© Landsat-USGS; Sentinel-ESA, Worldview: Digital Globe, Tandem-X Airbus, Sentinel-1: ESA, ALOS2-PALSAR-2 JAXA
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Ruben Van De Kerchove
An article by
Ruben Van De Kerchove
Team Leader Vegetation
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