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EU funds Brazilian biomass mapping project

The European Union (EU) has funded a project based in Brazil, which aims to harness the combined power of positioning and reflectometry technology in order to create a low-cost, unmanned aerial platform for biomass mapping of the Brazilian Amazon forest.

Not only is Brazil a large country but much of it is covered by the dense Amazon rainforest. In a statement on the European Commission website, the EC said: “Trying to manage such a rugged and isolated area using traditional mapping, surveying and land management tools is simply impossible.”

It said a new land management technology called COREGAL will help biomass mapping in Brazil.

This platform is the first of its kind – combining GNSS technology with drone, or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), systems, the EC said.

Traditionally, this sort of work has been completed using a combination of various sensor technology and sources of information. COREGAL, however, disrupts this approach by bringing a new sensor to the market, one capable of providing additional data to further improve upon existing products.

Therefore, on the one hand, COREGAL’s UAVs are equipped with a Galileo-enabled GNSS receiver that serves as the main sensor for positioning information and biomass estimation.

However, as Galileo signals are not always able to reach through the thick canopies of Brazil’s jungles, the COREGAL platform combines this traditional receiver with reflected GNSS signals (GNSS-R) that are capable of cutting through the dense canopy environment. Combined together, the platform provides the end user with a high accuracy, lower costs solution for land management and biomass mapping. 

System process

In the COREGAL system, the GNSS satellite in space serves as the transmitter and the UAV works as the receiver. The transmitted signal from the satellite is reflected off the ground, acquiring information about the surface’s characteristics – including obstacles – along the way.

This reflected signal is then received by the UAV’s biomass sensor, which extracts the data about the reflected surface (ie, the ground) from the reflected signals. Specific to its application to biomass mapping, as the signal is reflected back up through the tree canopies, branches and leaves, important biomass data is captured, and subsequently extracted by the UAV receiver.

“Integrating positioning and reflectometry in a single device within a UAV offers a unique value proposition,” said project coordinator Pedro Freire da Silva.

He added: “Furthermore, GNSS-R signal properties allow for a lower saturation level than traditional radar systems, providing the end user with greater sensitivity to a higher level of biomass density.”

Biofuel potential

According to the EC, understanding an area’s biomass is essential to being able to assess the economic, conservation and biofuel potential of a given land surface.

The EC said that this biomass data can also be used to estimate the amount of carbon stored in a forest – which is important to understanding the potential environmental and climate consequences that any planned land use could have. With this information in hand, local governments can mitigate against deforestation and forest degradation activities that could release harmful carbon gasses.