The Perils of Misusing Remote Sensing Data: The Case of Forest Cover

24 Pages Posted: 13 May 2020 Last revised: 3 Jun 2020

See all articles by Leopoldo Fergusson

Leopoldo Fergusson

Universidad de los Andes, Colombia - Department of Economics

Santiago Saavedra

Universidad del Rosario - Faculty of Economics

Juan F. Vargas

Universidad del Rosario

Date Written: May 6, 2020

Abstract

English Abstract: Research on deforestation has grown exponentially due to the availability of satellitebased measures of forest cover. One of the most popular is Global Forest Change (GFC). Using GFC, we estimate that the Colombian civil conflict increases ‘forest cover’. Using an alternative source that validates the same remote sensing images in the ground, we find the opposite effect. This occurs because, in spite of its name, GFC measures tree cover, including vegetation other than native forest. Most users of GFC seem unaware of this. In our case, most of the conflicting results are explained by GFC’s misclassification of oil palm crops as ‘forest’. Our findings call for caution when using automated classification of imagery for specific research questions.

Spanish Abstract: La investigación sobre la deforestación ha crecido exponencialmente gracias a la disponibilidad de medidas satelitales de cobertura boscosa. Una de las fuentes mas populares es Global Forest Change (GFC). Utilizando GFC, estimamos que el conflicto civil colombianos incremento la ‘cobertura boscosa’. Utilizando una fuente de datos alternativa que valida los mismos datos de imágenes remotas en el campo, encontramos el efecto opuesto. Esto ocurre porque, a pesar de su nombre, GFC mide cobertura de arboles, incluyendo vegetación distinta al bosque nativo. La mayoría de usuarios de GFC parecen ignorar esto. En nuestro caso, los resultados contradictorios se explican por los errores que GFC comete al clasificar cultivos de palma como ‘bosque’. Nuestros hallazgos demandan cautela al utilizar clasificaciones automáticas de imágenes satelitales para ciertas preguntas de investigación.

Keywords: Forest Cover, Conflict, Measurement

JEL Classification: D74, Q23, Q34

Suggested Citation

Fergusson, Leopoldo and Saavedra, Santiago and Vargas, Juan F., The Perils of Misusing Remote Sensing Data: The Case of Forest Cover (May 6, 2020). Documento CEDE No. 15, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3596173 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3596173

Leopoldo Fergusson (Contact Author)

Universidad de los Andes, Colombia - Department of Economics ( email )

Carrera 1a No. 18A-10
Santafe de Bogota, AA4976
Colombia

HOME PAGE: http://www.googlesyndicatedsearch.com/u/uniandes?q=Leopoldo+Fergusson

Santiago Saavedra

Universidad del Rosario - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Casa Pedro Fermín
Calle 12C # 4-69
Bogota
Colombia

Juan F. Vargas

Universidad del Rosario ( email )

Calle 12 No. 6-25
Bogota, DC
Colombia

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