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Deforestation: Up Close and Personal

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Mar 6, 2014 1:50:00 PM

A story in the BBC’s Science and Environmental News online reports “A new global monitoring system that promises ‘near real time’ information on deforestation around the world.” And it is just a click away.

The Global Forest Watch (GFW) backed by Google and more than 40 other entities uses information from many millions of satellite images in combination with observers on the ground to track trees. Among the mega-companies backing the endeavor are Nestle and Unilever.

In images shown with the story, Brazil looks bad with deforestation shown in pink, but there is some good to the story, too. Areas, such as the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States look pretty good with reforestation (increasing amounts of forest) shown in blue.

Businesses welcome the database because it can help prove that products are sustainable. But the data shows that many are not walking the walk but rather just talking about the problems of deforestation. “Data from Google and the University of Maryland show that the world lost 230 million hectares of trees between 2000 and 2012.” One hectare is 10,000 square meters and is the equivalent of 2.471 acres. Thus, 230 million hectares is the loss of 568.33 million acres of trees in little more than a decade. “Forest campaigners say this is the equivalent of 50 football [soccer] fields.”

It’s a drop in the forest bucket, but during the same period 800,000 square meters of new trees were planted worldwide.

The forest watch system requires big data, which it has with the cloud computing power of the Google Earth Engine. Be careful if you play with it. Clicking can be as addictive as Angry Birds and make you way more depressed because it is real. “Data on tropical rain forests as a resolution of 500 metres is updated monthly.”

Doctor Andrew Steer of the World Resources Institute (WRI) says, “From now on, the bad guys cannot hide, and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

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