Table of Contents
Global Scale Destruction
Forests across the globe are disappearing at an alarming rate, with an area the size of South Africa—roughly 3.2 billion acres—having been stripped away. This loss is not without consequence; it’s a direct hit to biodiversity, soil health, and water quality, and it plays a significant role in exacerbating climate change.
The main driver behind this widespread deforestation is agriculture, which accounts for about 80% of the clearing in tropical regions. The increasing demand for food and agricultural products compels farmers to convert forests into fields and pastures. It’s a process that goes beyond the need for space to grow crops—forests are also cut down for timber, minerals, and water resources that support agriculture, while the construction of roads and storage facilities further reduces forest cover.
Brazil and the Amazon
Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is one of the most visible victims of this trend. Here, deforestation is largely linked to cattle ranching, with the demand for beef and leather pushing ranchers to burn and clear forests. These practices are not just harmful to the environment; they’re also inefficient, as deforested land quickly becomes less fertile, requiring more land to graze the same number of cattle.
The impact of deforestation is felt on a global scale. Forests store vast amounts of carbon, and when they are cut down, this carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. The removal of trees also disrupts local climates and rainfall patterns, which can have a direct effect on agricultural productivity.
The tracking and analysis of deforestation have benefited from advances in satellite monitoring. Tools such as Global Forest Watch use this technology to provide detailed data on forest changes around the world. This information is vital for crafting effective conservation strategies and informing policy decisions.
Tackling the problem of deforestation involves sustainable land management, consumer awareness, and policies that promote forest conservation. It’s a complex issue that requires coordinated efforts across sectors and borders. The ongoing destruction of forests emphasizes the urgent need for action. It’s clear that the environmental cost of agriculture extends far beyond the fields and into the heart of our planet’s climate and health.
Satellite data has become an indispensable tool in detecting and understanding deforestation. By capturing images of the Earth’s surface, satellites provide clear, consistent, and objective data about the state of the world’s forests. These high-resolution images allow for the detection of deforestation activities almost as soon as they occur, enabling a timely response. Analysts can monitor changes in forest cover, pinpoint exactly where forests are being cut down, and measure the extent of the areas affected. This remote sensing technology is particularly valuable in regions that are difficult to access on foot or by vehicle, which includes much of the dense, remote tropical rainforests that are often the sites of illegal logging activities.
NASA and ESA
The most popular system for monitoring deforestation patterns is NASA’s Landsat. Landsat has been able to capture images of the entire Amazon region every fortnight for the last 47 years. With these accurate and clear images, one can detect even the smallest bushfire or newly developed clearing. Scientists have also been able to examine how the Amazon ecosystems co-exist and how they react to fresh deforestation.
The European Space Agency Sentinel-2 twin satellite mission was launched between 2015 and 2017. The resolution is higher than Landsat but there is shorter time from for the data. Many companies don’t use Sentinel-2 simply because it provides so much more data (10 m resolution) and instead the 250m resolution setting from Landsat – this means less data to process (lower costs, faster results) and the Amazon is so big that 10m v 250m may not be an issue.
EU and Deforestation Regulation
The EU is now tackling this through regulation – EUDR 2023/1115, enforcing the use of deforestation free products across multiple commodities.