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Pasadena Nonprofit’s New Technology Not Only Listens for Proverbial Falling Trees, It Gives Them a ‘Voice’

Published on Friday, September 15, 2023 | 5:38 am

In Pasadena, a city known for its blend of natural beauty and urban innovation, a nonprofit organization named CTrees is challenging the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

CTrees has developed a unique solution that not only hears the proverbial falling tree but sees it too. They’ve launched LUCA, the Land Use Change Alert system, which is being hailed as the world’s first global radar-based forest disturbance alert system.

Forest disturbance is the damage caused by any factor that adversely affects the productivity of forests. It includes disturbance by insect pests, diseases, storms or severe weather events, and fires. 

What sets LUCA apart is its ability to cover all forest biomes. It leverages data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 1 radar satellite system, filling a critical gap in global forest monitoring.

“LUCA revolutionizes the understanding of forest disturbances – including all forms of deforestation and degradation – by providing near-real-time information on forests worldwide,” CTrees announced in a statement released Tuesday.

CTrees’ mission extends beyond monitoring. The organization tracks carbon in every tree on the planet and delivers geospatial data for enabling natural climate solutions. With LUCA, CTrees is not just listening for falling trees; they’re giving them a voice.

CTrees said it envisions LUCA to become an indispensable resource for policymakers, law enforcement agencies, carbon market participants, academics, and think tanks, and will provide unparalleled speed and accuracy in identifying, addressing, and accounting for forest disturbances. 

The statement provided cases where LUCA would be useful, including the European Union’s Deforestation-free Regulation (EUDR), a new EU initiative to limit deforestation caused by forestry and agricultural activities all over the world. 

By accessing LUCA, anyone can see historical forest data dating back to January 2018. The platform employs state-of-the-art machine Learning capabilities to ensure precise analysis, the statement said.

“We believe LUCA’s unparalleled speed, accuracy, and coverage will prove to be an essential tool in global forest conservation efforts,” Sassan Saatchi, Co-founder and CEO of CTrees, said. “By making it free and accessible to all, this tool will transform our understanding of the world’s indispensable forests and aid researchers, carbon market participants, law enforcement agencies, and policymakers who are working to protect them.” 

In practical application, LUCA monitors what’s happening in forests across the globe and offers clearer resolution, a global scope, and availability for all forest biomes, including tropical humid, tropical dry, temperate, and boreal forests. It also provides alerts in near real-time to potential deforestation and degradation. 

Before LUCA, authorities and scientists who monitor forests only relied on optical images which are sensitive to weather conditions, and struggled to get cloud-free images across the tropics. CTrees said LUCA counters this problem by using synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data, ensuring alerts are generated in almost any weather condition. With this capability, the system can be used across a wide range of climates and conditions, CTrees said. 

“LUCA offers an unprecedented monitoring tool for detecting forest degradation and destruction,” Dee Lawrence, founder and director of Cool Effect, said. “This is ideal for the ICVCM’s (Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market) new assessment criteria. Further, the product is for anyone who wishes to protect the world’s forests, including those in countries with high-value forests but limited budgets, as it is offered at no charge.”

CTrees released LUCA on its website on Tuesday and said continual updates and new features will be released over time. It said their team is committed to ongoing improvements, including integrating data from the joint NASA-ISRO NISAR mission, set to launch in early 2024, to further enhance LUCA’s detection capacity and characterization of disturbances.

CTrees has scheduled a webinar on Oct. 18, at 9 a.m., to introduce LUCA. CTrees scientist Dr. Adugna Mullissa will share details on the LUCA platform and its core features, demo examples of LUCA in action, and explain the scientific methodology used to produce the alerts.

To attend the Zoom, register at

To learn more about CTrees, visit

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