Washington: Satellites have shown how we can promote economic development in an environmentally sustainable manner by putting a price on nature`s resources.
Located on the Indonesian island of Lombok, the Mount Rinjani National Park is an important ecosystem for numerous endangered plants and animals.
Just outside the park`s boundaries, the fertile soils are exploited for agriculture and much of the forest has been cleared away for farmland.
These farms are of great importance to the local economy, but deforestation has gravely affected water availability over the last decade.
While the farms may contribute to an economic profit, the troubles experienced by upstream communities - and the island as a whole - likely cause a deficit.
In many cases, a natural ecosystem`s economic value outweighs the potential economic gain by destroying it. How?
In the Lombok example, the forest provides water security and filtration, is a natural carbon store, protects against soil erosion and has the potential for ecotourism.
Putting a price on these features is one way to find out if keeping the forest is more profitable than destroying it for farming.
Satellites are being used to create digital elevation models of Mount Rinjani, as well as land use and land cover maps to support hydrological calculations and classify forests.
Estimates of forest volume and density help to calculate carbon sequestration.
These efforts help in assessing the value of Lombok`s forest resource.
This concept of `natural capital accounting` - also known as Ecosystems Service Assessments - can also be applied to wetlands, deserts, rangelands, grasslands and coastal areas.