Big Data Transforms Vietnam’s Monitoring of Forest Coverage

Gia Lai Forests
Image credit: Pham Ngoc Hai

The forests of Vietnam support the livelihoods of over 24 to 30 million rural people in Vietnam. Deforestation has serious effects on biodiversity, threatening the safety of millions of inhabitants as well as wildlife. The Vietnam Forest Inventory and Planning Institute (FIPI) monitors forest coverage across the country. Through its monitoring and inventory activities, FIPI provides decision making on rehabilitation of forest coverage.

Pham Ngoc Hai is a researcher at the Vietnam Remote Sensing and Information Technology Centre (RITC), operating under FIPI and applies remote sensing for forest cover monitoring in Vietnam. For him, traditional forest cover mapping and collecting ground data are time consuming and expensive. Satellite imagery requires advanced technical capacity. 

SERVIR-Mekong, a unique partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is supporting Hai in accessing the data he needs to effectively monitor forest coverage.

Recognizing the technical challenges, SERVIR-Mekong supported Hai and FIPI with training to use the Google Earth Engine (GEE) to discover and process satellite imagery.  GEE combines a large catalogue of freely available satellite imagery and geographic information system datasets with analysis capabilities – all easily accessible online, without the need to have software licenses or any installed software.

Pham Ngoc Hai during Google Earth Engine training in Hanoi
Pham Ngoc Hai trains participants during Google Earth Engine Training co-hosted by the Vietnam Academy for Water Resources in Hanoi, Vietnam.

After these GEE trainings, Hai is now an expert user of the platform and has recently applied the knowledge and skills towards creating methods to target hot-spot areas of forest change or degradation. Having also served as a co-trainer at the Vietnam Academy of Water Resources’ workshop on GEE, he is keen on training a new generation of experts in this technology. “I want to promote the use of GEE in universities. This will create more expert staff for the future,” says Hai. 

He has also started an informal network of GEE users across technical agencies to share tips and troubleshooting. This allows his team to capture field measurements and evidence from 200 forest rangers on tree types and changes within forests.  Hai says using GEE to access the immense catalogue of satellite data has improved communications between national and local forest personnel. Together they are now able to better track, manage and grow Vietnam’s forests.

Hai says using GEE to access the big catalogue of satellite data has improved communications between the national and local level forest personnel. This means together they are able to track, manage and grow Vietnam’s forests better. “I am happy to work with SERVIR-Mekong. Trainings such as this have allowed me to have new visions to produce fast and quality mapping for my work and research,” Hai said. “Now I serve everyone’s needs.”  

RLCMS workshop Bangkok
Pham Ngoc Hai participates in the Regional Land Cover Monitoring Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand.

Currently, he is working with SERVIR-Mekong in developing the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System, a ground-breaking system that will encourage more effective land use across the Lower Mekong region. Hai is also working with another agency, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on developing maps and information about greenhouse gases emitted and captured by different land cover types. This will allow them to measure and report on progress towards climate change mitigation targets. Hai says he wants to collaborate even more with other technical agencies to grow their expertise in using these methods. The best way to learn is by doing and applying the methods to pilot projects which is what they are planning for the coming year.

With the combination of technical knowledge embraced by and commitment from people like Hai, Vietnam will be better able to manage its precious forest resources. This will help ensure the millions of people who rely on forests for their livelihoods can continue to rely on them in the future.