Resourceful scientists are utilizing Cold War spy satellite images from the 1960s to monitor the condition of trees in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. Originally used by the United States to identify potential Soviet Union missile sites, these black-and-white images, numbering around 800,000, are now being digitally processed using modern drone image conversion software.
This innovative approach allows researchers, led by Catalina Munteanu, a biogeographer at the University of Freiburg, to assess the health of forested areas, identify ecological hotspots, and evaluate the historical context of these landscapes.
Catalina Munteanu, who is a biogeographer at the University of Freiburg, was the study leader, and said: “If we really want to understand the forest systems, we have to think about the history of those forests and this is an aspect that has been widely neglected so far because data was missing from that period.”
Funded by the European Union, the EcoSpy project has identified approximately 2,850 square miles (7,380 square kilometers) of older forests with significant ecological value. However, the study reveals that half of these ecologically important forests are currently at risk.
The United Nations Environment Programme emphasizes the critical role of forests in biodiversity, providing a home for half of the world’s species of animals, plants, and insects.
The impact of global heating, deforestation for agriculture, and wood demand for construction and heating poses a threat to some forests. Forests, crucial for biodiversity, also play a vital role in mitigating pollution and regulating rising temperatures on Earth.
Acting as natural filters, they absorb and trap harmful gases released by human-related activities, contributing to the reduction of the greenhouse effect.
Furthermore, forests serve as a protective barrier during flooding events, shielding rural communities from excessive water levels that can lead to severe damage and endanger lives. Recognizing the importance of monitoring global forests, the researchers believe that the insights gained from historical satellite images can extend beyond Romania’s Carpathian Mountains and contribute to ongoing efforts to safeguard forest ecosystems worldwide.