Google Earth images reveal flawed WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping

(foresthints.news) - Of the 336,000 hectares of the Kahayan hydrological landscape located in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Pulang Pisau regency which was covered by LiDAR mapping, the implementation of which was coordinated by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a mere 218 hectares - or 0.06% - have been classified as burned peat areas.

The extent of 2015’s burned peat areas according to the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping is clearly inconsistent with the facts on the ground. As such, the land cover classification based on this LiDAR-mapping analysis should be rejected, for both legal and technical reasons.

This is the fourth news report concerning the results of a verification process of the Norwegian-funded LiDAR mapping, performed on a spatial basis and through ground level observations by foresthints.news - and reinforces once again that the LiDAR mapping and subsequent analysis of it were misleading.

42% of burned peat areas neglected

The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has legally designated more than 141,000 hectares - 42% of the 336,000 hectares which were LiDAR mapped - as 2015’s burned peat areas, a significant amount of which constitute burned peat forests.

Furthermore, the Peat Restoration Agency (BRG)’s targeted indicative peat restoration map, which was released in mid-September last year to be used, among other things, for the targeted peat restoration of 2015’s burned peat areas, also refers to the ministry’s map, as outlined above.

The gaping discrepancy between the ministry figure and that derived from the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping resulted in foresthints.news, through a set of Google Earth images, uncovering and presenting the serious errors made in land cover classification by the LiDAR mapping in question.

For example, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping wrongly classified 2015’s burned peat areas, as depicted in the Google Earth images below (10/14/2015), as high-density secondary peat swamp forests.

The evidence displayed in the Google Earth images above clearly confirms the lack of credibility of the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping. In fact, many examples of similar evidence have been found in the classification of land cover based on this LiDAR mapping.

2015’s burned peat areas downplayed

By classifying 2015’s burned peat areas at just 0.06%, from what should have been at least 42%, of the 336,000 hectares mapped, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping has explicitly downplayed the size of the 2015’s burned peat areas in the Kahayan hydrological landscape.

Meanwhile, the following Google Earth images (10/14/2015) show sections of 2015’s burned peat areas which were instead classified by the WRI-LiDAR mapping as high-density secondary peat swamp forests, thus providing irrefutable evidence of the misleading understatement of the scale of these burned peat areas.

In reality, vast areas burned in 2015 - as demonstrated in the Google Earth images above and in line with the ministry’s designation - should undoubtedly have been classified as burned peat areas, whereas the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping only classified 218 hectares as such.

The primary consideration behind President Joko Widodo’s decision to establish the peat agency in early January last year was to accelerate restoration efforts of 2015’s burned peat areas.

However, the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping - now proven to have significantly trivialized the magnitude of 2015’s burned peat areas - is plainly at odds with the President’s main reason for forming the peat agency.

It goes without saying that the mandate given by the President to the peat agency in terms of peat restoration efforts did not include changing the land cover classification of 2015’s burned peat areas into a different, inaccurate and irresponsible land cover classification - as happened in the detailed analysis based on the results of the WRI-coordinated LiDAR mapping.