Scientists: We Need More than Google Earth to Fight Deforestation

While deforestation is clearly visible from satellite imagery, selective logging of rainforests is much harder to track. A team of some of the best scientists across the world have developed estimates of the severity of human logging in tropical regions, but say they really have no idea how accurate they are.


At today’s symposium “Will the Rainforests Survive? New Threats and Realities in the Tropical Extinction Crisis” at the Smithsonian Institution, Gregory Asner from the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology explained the results of an extensive study on the extent of rainforest destruction worldwide.

Asner said he hopes to see more technology like the sensors developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Carnegie. Those sensors use waveform LiDAR (light detection and ranging) to create a 3D map of a forest that can detect when anything changes.

Using the technology they currently have, including Google Earth and satellite images, the team of scientists found that 1.4$ of the world’s rainforests had been deforested or clearcut between 2000 and 2005, that by 2005 more than half now had less than 50% of their natural treecover, and that 1.7% are actually involved in secondary regrowth.

“Selective logging is more difficult to recognize and quantify than outright deforestation, so there have been few estimates of its impact,” says Asner. “But we found that around 28% of humid tropical forests are undergoing some level of timber harvesting.”

Developing these new technologies will help draw attention to the fight against rainforest clearcutting and deforestation. After all, conservation efforts can only go so far if all the damage isn’t known.

Photo Credit: Ben Sutherland on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

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