Aspiration Carbon Project Monitoring and Engagement, Part 1: Remote Sensing and GIS – Eyes from the Sky

Welcome to a new, four-part blog series on the monitoring components that Aspiration uses to guarantee the highest quality in our carbon offset project investments.

Carbon offset projects offer real solutions to the climate crisis, however, how can you be sure that a project results in a tangible impact for the climate, environment, and communities on the ground?  This is where robust, multi-faceted monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) comes into play.  At Aspiration, we do our due diligence and take MRV very seriously.  

Every one of our projects must align with the relevant carbon registry methodology and contribute toward our internal benchmarks and impact goals.  This allows us to ensure that all of the projects in our portfolio ultimately achieve the greatest climate, community, and environmental impact possible.  We set short- and long-term targets and work with our project partners to ensure their projects are on track and delivering credible results.  This in turn gives us the crucial confidence that we are only providing the highest quality carbon credits to our customers with wide-ranging benefits in addition to CO2 removal and reduction.

Our Carbon Project Monitoring Strategy

A robust monitoring strategy relies on more than one type of data to assess progress and impact.  Aspiration uses triangulation — a holistic way to verify data and information is accurate and representative by analyzing multiple types of data or applying different monitoring methodologies.  We apply a four-part monitoring strategy across all projects in our portfolio to attain the greatest confidence in our data:

  1. Collaborate with project partners to ensure robust climate, environmental and community indicator data collection and analysis is occurring at the site level and shared with Aspiration, including tree growth and survival rates, carbon biomass, crop production, biodiversity levels, soil carbon, community income generation and more;
  2. Utilize geospatial data and remote sensing to track vegetation changes, carbon biomass estimates, and threat detection across all sites in our portfolio;
  3. Conduct annual site visits to project sites to evaluate progress and outcomes, as well as identify any challenges, speak with community members engaged in the project, and assess the overall project management and monitoring practices at each site; and
  4. Third party validation and verification bodies assess all carbon offset projects against the relevant independent carbon standard and provide reports to the project developer and Aspiration with key findings and recommendations for action.

This is the first installment in a new blog series that will walk through each of the four monitoring components, focusing on one per publication.  This month, we will take a look at how Aspiration monitors our projects from the sky through geospatial data and remote sensing.

Remote Sensing & GIS Lets Our Experts Track Progress Any Time, Any Place

Carbon offset projects such as reforestation, regenerative agriculture, improved grazing, or mangrove restoration generally take place across thousands of hectares of land.  It’s very difficult for us or our partners to be everywhere within a project site at one time.  By employing geographic information systems (GIS) – which captures, stores, checks, and displays data related to positions on Earth’s surface – and high-resolution satellite imagery, we track project progress and analyze ecosystem or climatic changes over time, right from our desks.  

First, we use GIS data to assess project sites during our initial project due diligence and evaluation phase to determine what types of threats or degradation have occurred at the site historically.  We then layer on historical and predictive modeling of climatic, hydrological, urban development, or vegetation data to understand if project site conditions are favorable and viable for the project type.  

The top satellite imagery depicts an Aspiration project site (within the white boundary line) in 2019 before the start of mangrove restoration.  The image on the bottom shows the same project site after two years of restoration.  

Once a project is established, we regularly track the progress and change over time of the site conditions, ecosystem health, aboveground carbon stock, and any emerging threats (e.g. fire, floods, urban encroachment).  We analyze vegetation vigor and canopy growth through several different vegetation indices—a valuation of surface reflectance using different spectral bands—such as the Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI).

NDVI imagery of Aspiration project site showing high levels of vegetation vigor (growth) in green and low levels in yellow to orange.

Analysis of area within project site to assess change in vegetation vigor over time and to identify threats to site from deforestation, fire or drought (Lens; ESA 2022 Sentinel imagery).

Aspiration also monitors changes in aboveground carbon stock, tree height, and canopy cover using AI-generated models that have been trained and validated through LiDAR (a remote sensing method that uses light from a pulsed laser to measure distance to the Earth) and data collected from direct, on the ground measurement and sampling.  This allows us to analyze the change in forest growth over time and develop accurate estimates of aboveground carbon stock (the carbon stored in trees) that will then be validated by our project partners and 3rd party validation and verification bodies.

Image of project site showing aboveground carbon biomass layer with brighter colors representing higher concentrations of carbon stock (layer developed by Salo Sciences).

Lastly, we triple check our own GIS data analysis against expert resources such as Global Forest Watch to determine changes in forest loss or gain and carbon flux across project sites over time.  We receive vegetation change and fire alerts for our project sites, which we compare to the alerts we receive from our internal GIS monitoring systems to ensure we have the most up-to-date information on any threats to our sites and can follow up with our partners directly on the ground.  

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Global Forest Watch tree cover estimates of Aspiration project site showing an increase in tree cover gain of one hectare between 2000 and 2020.  Aspiration partners started planting in this site in 2020 and so additional tree cover gain will be visible through spectral analysis as seedlings continue to grow.  

Through a combination of high-resolution satellite imagery and GIS data, we can keep an eye on our projects from anywhere in the world – a true game changer for reforestation monitoring.  This information is supplemented with on-the-ground data and updates from our project partners, which enables us to have continuous information coming in from our projects at any time of the year.  Add to this our own in-person site visits and 3rd party verification, and the outcome is the highest quality carbon credits delivering credible, impactful results for the climate, environment, and communities around the globe.

Stay tuned for the next three installments of our blog series as we explore the other elements of our monitoring system that we use to guarantee the highest quality for our carbon projects.