Forest resources assessment is one of Luke’s crown jewels. In order to mitigate climate change, countries around the world need to keep a closer eye on their forests. Luke caters for this increasing need.
We have spent the last few centuries worrying about which disaster will eventually destroy our forests. First, everyone thought the biggest threat was burning tar. Then it was air pollutants, then greenhouse gases, and most recently carbon dioxide emissions.
As the needs and worries around forest resources evolve, Luke’s forest resource research endeavours evolve and strengthen, too. They answer to an increasing demand for understanding forest resources all around the world from Kenya to Cambodia.
Quality comes down to experience, says Kari T. Korhonen, Leading Scientist in forest resource assessment at Luke.
“We have a long track record of continuous forest inventory operation, so we’re on very solid ground today.”
For nearly a century, Luke’s researchers have observed Finnish forests and gathered information on tree density, biomass and resources in general. This has helped to keep track of the structure, growth and ownership of Finnish forests, among other things.
As global demand for this expertise grows, Luke’s research is becoming more and more relevant internationally.
“Finland is one of the leading countries in forest resources assessment. For the past ten years we’ve been a part of a strong European network of experts in the field, and collaborated with most European countries doing forest resources assessment, such as Austria, France and Germany”, Korhonen says.
Helping the Kenyans
Experience in mathematical statistics has provided a sturdy skeleton for Luke’s operation. It played an important role in a recent three-year cooperation project conducted in Kenya from 2013 to 2016.
The Improving Capacity in Forest Resources Assessment in Kenya (IC-FRA) project aimed to strengthen the Kenyan partners’ capabilities in forest inventory and monitoring, as well as to improve inventory methods in Kenya.
It resulted in a countrywide forest resources assessment plan and improved techniques for forest monitoring. Luke collaborated with the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, the University of Eldoret and the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing.
“Current estimates of forest resources in Kenya are based on partial or old inventories. They lacked an efficient methodology for representative nationwide inventory, and their most recent national assessment dated back to the 1990’s”, says Project Coordinator, Researcher Helena Haakana.
“In a relatively short time, we strengthened their expertise in collecting and managing information on forest resources significantly.”
The land of information technology
Finland is full of information technology experts with special know-how in forest inventory. Although Kenyans have a lot of advanced experience in information technology, the project helped them to put their experience to an even better use in forest assessment.
One of the key takeaways of the project for the Kenyans was a stronger skillset in, for example, statistical methods and applications related to forestry, such as satellite imaging.
“During the project, our Finnish-Kenyan team carried out a pilot inventory on five test areas, took soil samples, and mapped tree biomasses using satellite image interpretations. We used the information and a simulator developed by Luke experts for designing sampling for the national forest resources assessment”, Haakana explains.
In addition to satellite image analyses and the sampling simulation technique, the Finnish research team introduced other digital measuring and assessment methods to their Kenyan colleagues.
“One of IC-FRA’s sub- projects included testing of laser scanning that aims to produce more specific information for local forest planning.”
These methods are only a small part of the technological expertise inside Luke’s walls. Ever since the 1990’s, forest inventory teams have used computers out in the field to extract high-quality on-site information on forest resources.
Later on, they’ve used things like satellite positioning device to locate the field plots accurately, as well as electric scissors for transferring tree diameters and locations automatically to computers.
“These technologies might not seem like a big deal for western researchers, but can help scientists in other parts of the world immensely”, Haakana points out.