Satellites are being used increasingly as eyes in the sky. While satellite images can tell some stories in their original visual format qualitatively, a major limiting factor for their use in research is the challenge to extract information from these images. The ability to transfer these images into information-rich maps makes satellite imagery a powerful tool and can provide reliable data for decision making and action. As a graduate student, in 1997, Greg Asner had the foresight to create CLASlite, a platform to quantitatively monitor changes in forest cover using satellite images. After more than a decade, Asner tells Mongabay in an interview (Kimbrough, 2020), that CLASlite is “the fastest and easiest way to take a look at any forest from Earth’s orbit.” The latest version, CLASlite v3.3 was launched in 2013, with support for images from nine satellites. Asner also created the CLASlite classroom, which provides video instructions on how to use the software. By 2016, more than 2,630 governmental institutions, non-governmental organizations (non-commercial), and academic or research institutions in 134 countries had signed up for the CLASlite course. By 2019, CLASlite was being used widely for forest monitoring, however it was no longer possible to continue with the free subscription model. Starting in 2020, Asner and i-Cultiver created a new home (claslite.org) for the software with a minimal fee model to support its continued access for students and non-profit organizations, and for its potential uses in industry.
The CLASlite Classroom has also found a new home on edX with Stanford supported CLASlite courses being offered in English and Spanish. In addition, the software is available to students and non-profit organizations for free for the first 30 days. Since its launch in February 2020, there are over 2,300 students enrolled in CLASlite courses on edX (by April 2020). These numbers reflect the interest in CLASlite.
CLASlite can be used by anyone, bringing forest cover mapping technology to the frontlines of forest conservation (Asner, 2014; Khanna, 2020).