The Bigger Picture

Monitoring deforestation on a global scale

September 22, 2014


The importance of the world’s forests is indisputable. They are, quite simply, central to our survival. But understanding in detail the effects of deforestation on our global forests is no easy task, especially when it comes to country-to-country comparison.

Up until very recently, accurately comparing forestry data from different countries was impossible. However, a study based on data from the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey Landsat 7 satellite is the first to track forest loss and gain using a consistent method around the globe at extremely high resolution. 

Hansen, whose team at the University of Maryland in the USA led the new study, analysed 143 billion pixels in 654,000 Landsat images to compile maps of forest loss and gain across the globe between 2000 and 2012.

With this method, scientists can compare forest changes in different countries and monitor annual deforestation. As Hansen explains, “With Landsat we can apply the same algorithm to forests in the Amazon, the Congo, Indonesia, and so on… Now we have 12 years of annual forest loss over the globe.”

During the study period, 888,000 square miles of forest was lost and 309,000 square miles regrew. Brazil cut its deforestation rate from approximately 15,400 square miles per year to approximately 7,700 square miles. However, Indonesia didn’t paint such a positive picture – their deforestation rate doubled from approximately 3,900 square miles per year to more than 7,700 square miles.

As specialists in sustainable timber investments, and with our Forestry Easement Trust protecting 2,173 acres of natural woodlands, we recognise the positive impact this new study will have on how we monitor and understand the world’s forests. And as it progresses, we hope this understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ will lead to a decline in deforestation on a global scale.