New platform tracks deforestation in near real time
February 25, 2014
According to World Wildlife Fund data, we are losing 12 to 15 million hectares (46,332 to 57,915 square miles) of the world's forests every year. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, as it accounts for 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, besides killing biodiversity, depleting natural resources, compromising water sources, causing soil erosion and other environmental problems. Efforts to fight deforestation require fast information that could help authorities and NGOs take action before the worst damage is done. Global Forest Watch is a new initiative offering the possibility to do just that. It monitors deforestation activity across the globe, in near real time.
Launched on February 19th in Washington DC, Global Forest Watch was created by the World Resources Institute with backing from Google and support from several other organizations that contributed data, technical capabilities, funding, and expertise. Currently in beta, the platform is free and uses the crowd-sourcing principle to deliver a constant stream of up-to-date information on forest-threatening activities.
Powering the platform is Google’s cloud technology, which provides speedy access to data provided by satellites. Users can access information for the entire globe at a resolution of 30 meters (984 ft), and monthly tree cover loss data for the humid tropics at a resolution of 500 meters (1,640 ft). The platform also provides analytical tools that detect the causes of deforestation such as mining, logging, livestock, and others. It additionally provides fire alerts from NASA as well as email alerts to a network of partners and citizens around the world so they can mobilize and take action.
The tool is available for anyone, such as governments trying to detect illegal forest clearing, companies willing to monitor the commodity supply chain, NGOs willing to identify deforestation hotspots, indigenous communities, media, researchers and just about any concerned citizen who’s worried about the future of the planet. Users can also submit stories about what's happening "in forests on the ground."
Forests must be saved from further destruction since they are key climate regulators and home to most of the world’s biodiversity. Recent data from the the University of Maryland and Google shows that the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers (888,035 sq mi) of tree coverage between 2000 and 2012. That is 50 soccer fields in forest coverage lost for every minute of that 13-year period. Reforestation is losing by a large margin, as 0.8 million square kilometers (308,881 square miles) have been added in that same period. Russia, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Indonesia are the countries with the highest tree cover loss.
The genesis of the Global Forest Watch project dates back to 1997 as an attempt to create a globalized forest monitoring service as part of WRI’s Forest Frontiers Initiative. “Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, WRI's president and CEO. “Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”
The video below shows the project's presentation in English. Similar videos in other languages are also available from the GFW website.