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A machine learning approach to map tropical selective logging

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • M.G. Hethcoat
  • D.P. Edwards
  • J.M.B. Carreiras
  • R.G. Bryant
  • F.M. França
  • S. Quegan
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Remote Sensing of Environment
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)569-582
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/12/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Hundreds of millions of hectares of tropical forest have been selectively logged, either legally or illegally. Methods for detecting and monitoring tropical selective logging using satellite data are at an early stage, with current methods only able to detect more intensive timber harvest (>20 m3 ha−1). The spatial resolution of widely available datasets, like Landsat, have previously been considered too coarse to measure the subtle changes in forests associated with less intensive selective logging, yet most present-day logging is at low intensity. We utilized a detailed selective logging dataset from over 11,000 ha of forest in Rondônia, southern Brazilian Amazon, to develop a Random Forest machine-learning algorithm for detecting low-intensity selective logging (<15 m3 ha−1). We show that Landsat imagery acquired before the cessation of logging activities (i.e. the final cloud-free image of the dry season during logging) was better at detecting selective logging than imagery acquired at the start of the following dry season (i.e. the first cloud-free image of the next dry season). Within our study area the detection rate of logged pixels was approximately 90% (with roughly 20% commission and 8% omission error rates) and approximately 40% of the area inside low-intensity selective logging tracts were labelled as logged. Application of the algorithm to 6152 ha of selectively logged forest at a second site in Pará, northeast Brazilian Amazon, resulted in the detection of 2316 ha (38%) of selective logging (with 20% commission and 7% omission error rates). This suggests that our method can detect low-intensity selective logging across large areas of the Amazon. It is thus an important step forward in developing systems for detecting selective logging pan-tropically with freely available data sets, and has key implications for monitoring logging and implementing carbon-based payments for ecosystem service schemes.