It is important to establish how much forested countries in the tropics have been losing as well as how much they still have. The rates of deforestation in the past are a baseline against which the contemporary rate and future rates can be compared. Developing countries can then be compensated for the deforestation avoided.
Where cloud cover is not a problem, optical satellite data, for example from MODIS, Landsat and SPOT, identify changes in forest area, but only at coarse or medium resolution. They can not identify more subtle changes in forests due to degradation or recovery. For example, regrowing forest in the tropics may exhibit a dense tree cover but composed mainly of pioneer trees with much lower carbon stocks than the original forest.
A new era is claimed for remote sensing with the operation of the ALOS satellite. This uses radar sensing and has the unprecedented ability to deliver high-resolution (~20 meters), regional- to continental-scale image acquisitions over short time frames (6-8 weeks), through dense cloud cover and precipitation, and day and night (Woods Hole Research Centre, 2007).
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