Canadian Biomass Magazine

Plenty of biomass – Satellites say

March 11, 2015
By Scott Jamieson

Mar. 11, 2015 - There has been much controversy and speculation that the demand for biomass as a fuel source is driving deforestation and degradation. To have an objective look at the matter, Canadian Biomass asked Global Surface Intelligence (GSi) out of Scotland to delve into its mass of satellite data.


This report provides factual biomass measurements in three separate areas across Canada covering a total of 6.88 million hectares.

Big Data

GSi performed the analysis with its innovative big data software platform, which is able to process and analyze huge amounts of satellite and other data. Using this platform, GSi now observes the whole surface of Canada at least three times a day from satellite.


The analysis was carried out annually starting from 2001 over three forest-dependent locations covering a total of 6.88 million hectares including; the Hearst Forest in northern Ontario, the Prince Albert region of Saskatchewan, and north of Prince George in British Columbia. The latter is the hub for Canada’s pellet export business.

Nigel Douglas, GSi’s CEO explains the process. “The ability to monitor continuous change over time gives us a much clearer picture of how our forests are being impacted by climate change and from the growing demand for biomass as a fuel source. The results are encouraging and clearly demonstrate that the areas we analyzed are not being adversely affected by either deforestation or degradation”.

The analysis showed that as of 2013 the areas had actually increased biomass density by an average of 3.28% when compared to 2001 values. The largest increase was the area north of Prince George which increased by 10% since 2001.

“We have conducted similar analysis over 4 million hectares in Mississippi and while biomass densities in that area were at their lowest in 2009 , the area was only fractionally below the highs it showed in 2002. As a company, we are not here to argue the pros and cons of biomass as a fuel source, we are here to just show the real facts. From these results, it is clear however that the biomass industry may have been unfairly criticized by certain groups in recent times”.

GSi couples satellite based observations with topographic information and calibrates the software using machine learning against actual ground based measurements. This big data approach also enables the accuracy of the data to be quantified against actual measurements.

Douglas said, “We have opened up our data to some environmental groups and power companies, it perhaps tells a tale that only the latter have shown an interest in the results”.

In addition to biomass densities, GSi can also provide annual measurements of other lumber attributes including volumes, diameters, heights and more. For more information on GSi’s big data platform, visit their website.

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