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SILVA – Satellite-based Inspection of Large Vegetated Areas

Requester: ExoLabs GmbH

ExoLabs is a spin-off of the University of Zurich and its expertise is based on over 10 years of research in the field of applied Earth Observation (EO) and software development – with the mission, to provide state-of-the-art and user-friendly EO products and services across various spatial and temporal scales. ExoLabs’ track record includes (1) active monitoring and quantification of natural resources from local to global scale, (2) build-up of EO based in-house capacities for insurances and the energy sector, and (3) big data processing and management for cantonal and federal offices. ExoLabs works closely with leading research groups from Swiss universities in their respective fields (e.g. with UZH, ETHZ, FHNW, HLU), and are/were involved in projects with national and international institutions in the EO sector.


Almost a third of Switzerland is covered with forests. These forests are exposed to severe climatic changes. For example, the atmosphere near the ground warmed up by around 2.1°C in the last 170 years – almost twice as much as the rise in mean global temperature. This puts increased pressure on forest ecosystems, resulting in a change of tree species compositions, more risk in general and more risk of biotic and abiotic damage, especially.

To develop adaptation and coping strategies and to provide stakeholders and decisionmakers the necessary information, a continuous and objective forest monitoring approach is essential. In the frame of the SILVA project (Satellite-based Inspection of Large Vegetated Areas – – a satellite-based observation system that provides continuous and comprehensive information on the current forest conditions in Switzerland is developed together with ETHZ and WSL. The main objective of SILVA is to detect forest disturbances in near real-time with daily updates in a high spatial resolution of 20 m for the entire area of Switzerland and its surroundings.

Requested Support

For a successful implementation, the consideration of user requirements is of particular importance. This is a challenge because the product is intended to address very different target groups – from government authorities to environmental organizations to insurance companies. With this call, we are looking for partners who are interested in a pilot project or who want to make themselves available as beta users. The evaluation of the functionalities and the related feedback as well as the validation of the reliability are in the foreground. Based on these findings, an application is being sought to transfer the methodology to Europe and to be able to further develop it to TRL 8/9. In this context, expansions of the existing consortium are also possible.

Additional information

Several federal policies advocate the sustainable forest management to achieve the objectives set out in the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050, the Swiss Nuclear Energy Act, the Sustainable Development Strategy, the Forestry Policy 2020, the Wood Resource Policy and the 2000-Watt Society, to name just a few. Within the Forest Policy 2020, forest conservation is a primary objective to preserve its wide-ranging services in terms of protection against natural hazards and as supplier of wood, recreational space, habitats for animals and plants, and drinking-water under changing climate conditions. To ensure these 4 conservation efforts, several measures and regular forest monitoring shall provide an uptodate and meaningful inventory.

The importance of forests can also be assessed by its economic value. In 2016, the wood market in Switzerland was offering employment for more than 100’000 persons in the forestry economy and in the industry of wood transformation1. The organization “Economie Forestière Suisse” (EFS) represents 3’500 public entities and 250’000 private forest owners. About 90% of the wood production capacity comes from the members of the association “Holzindustrie Schweiz”. Every year, between 7 and 8 million cubic meters of wood can be harvested in Switzerland without overexploitation, out of those only 5 million cubic meters with a value of more than 400 million CHF are actually collected. The gross added value of the Swiss forest economy and wood industry amounts to CHF 4.5 billion per year.

The main innovations central to this call for participation include the following thematic and technical aspects:
• Current forest monitoring efforts in Switzerland can be significantly improved by including daily satellite observation to quantify changes over vast areas in a high spatial resolution
• Our near real-time monitoring service is based on a multi-sensor approach, which fuses data from optical (Sentinel-2 & 3, Landsat 7/8) and SAR (Sentinel-1) sensors with different spatial, spectral and temporal characteristics to maximize the spatiotemporal resolution and observational coverage
• Our consortium includes deep machine learning experts from the ETHZ/EcoVision Lab, federal forestry experts from WSL and EO-data processing experts from ExoLabs to ensure the optimal accuracy, thematic relevance, and highest reliability of our services.
• Next to novel data products on near real-time changes and annual assessments in forests, we additionally focus on different distribution services to provide actionable information to pilot users.

Figure: Satellite based monitoring of different types of forest disturbances