Enhancing the measurement and modeling of Costa Rica’s natural riches

Rapid improvements in how scientists use satellite technology are changing how we value nature’s benefits to people.

Human well-being relies on nature in myriad ways. To maintain the natural systems people rely on, decision-makers need information about how humans change nature and how those changes affect people around the world. Nature’s benefits to people, or ecosystem services, support our food systems, our mental and physical health, our economies, our climate resilience and much more. To understand just how important these benefits are to people, we need to be able to map and model them.

We are improving the accessibility, accuracy, and relevance of information about biodiversity and ecosystem services to enable better and faster decision-making. Rapid improvements in spatial data, computation and visualization present new opportunities for ecosystem service modeling—especially in terms of its integration with Earth observations (EO) from satellite remote-sensing. This project is made possible through a collaboration between Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project and Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), the Central Bank of Costa Rica (BCCR) and PRIAS lab, and work funded by NASA and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), and supported by the GEO and AWS Cloud Credits Programme.

When scientists collect data on the ground, they’re limited by slow, laborious field processes and small sampling areas. Earth observations remove those restrictions to allow for greater, faster analysis. This  collaboration aims to advance the use of satellite information to predict patterns of biodiversity at different levels, more frequently and across larger extents that is possible through field observation, and to increase the understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services. 

In Costa Rica, three ecosystem services that are key to livelihoods and cultural values are water quality regulation, crop pollination, and ecotourism. Because of their significance, we are improving InVEST models to map and analyze those benefits for Costa Ricans.   

The project has already seen significant success in uncovering new information about ecosystems and biodiversity. On Tuesday, October 27, we presented these results in a Virtual Workshop to an audience of more than 150 attendees from Costa Rica and 30 other countries around the world. 

Linking biodiversity and ecosystem services is an important step forward for support of decisions on conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development. The results of this work will be used to produce generalized models for linking Earth observations, biodiversity, and ecosystem services at local and regional scales that can be applied across Costa Rica, and ultimately extended to other parts of the world. Continuing its legacy being a world leader for developing policy that works for nature and people, Costa Rica is developing the knowledge and capacity in-country to continue generating these analyses and use them in the publication of Ecosystemic Accounts, identifying Essential Life Support Areas, reporting on the quality and trends of the State of the Environment and designing the new mechanisms to expand Costa Rica’s iconic Payment for Environmental Services Program. 

In addition to project partners MINAE, BCCR and PRIAS, organizations within Costa Rica that attended the Workshop included CATIE, iCAFE, ICE, IDB, IMN, IUCN, Ministries of Agriculture, Public Security, and Housing & Human Settlements (in addition to MINAE), SINAC, and UNDP. More information about the event, including the complete recordings in English and Spanish, can be accessed at https://simocute.go.cr/events/riquezasnaturales2/.