Google has teamed up with with researchers from the University of Maryland, NASA and the USGS to bring the first high-resolution map of global deforestation to life using Google Earth Engine. The project was created using over a decade of Landsat images and puts global land use changes into a format that the public, NGOs and governments around the world can use to learn more about forestry practices and hopefully help deter unwanted deforestation.
“People will use this data in ways we can’t even imagine today,” said lead author Matthew Hansen, Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maryland. The team hopes that people using the tool will look around and discover all of the information contained in the maps, but also possibly discover some new information too.
Forest loss in Riau, Indonesia in the years 2000 - 2012
The tool was built by analyzing 654,178 Landsat images and required so much CPU that it would have taken one computer 15 years to process. In fact, it's only due to recent gains in computing technology that such a high-resolution map (scalable down to 30 meters) could exist in the first place. It's groundbreaking not just because of the high resolution, but also because it's the first tool to show forest cover and loss on a global scale -- you can see the effects of what's happening locally in a global context.
The tool allows you to jump to some specific examples of deforestation caused by things like logging and farm clearing, as well as natural disasters like tornadoes and wild fires. In the image below, forest loss is represented in red. The diagonal red line traces the path of the April 27, 2011 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama.
Some other things documented in the tool are the progress made by Brazil in cracking down on illegal logging and deforestation over the past decade, but the map also shows the increasing forest loss in places like Indonesia, Paraguay and elsewhere. Studies show that tropical forest loss is increasing by 2,101 square kilometers (811 square miles) per year.
The creators of the tool hope that it can be used to help predict future land use changes and the effects of climate-related deforestation. With this amount of data being contained in such a user-friendly format, governments and other organizations can use the tool to make better policies to protect our forests.
You can check out the map and all of the layers here and read all about the study in the journal Science this week.