Over the last several years, the rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon had been in steady decline, but the latest data is yet again proving that the problem is far from over. According to figures released today, deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has increased nearly 1,000 percent from the same period the year before, marking the first rise in over two years -- though only time will tell if it is merely a disappointing uptick, or a troubling reverse of trends.A newly disclosed report from the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (IMAZON) reveals that 175 square kilometers (68 mi²) of forest were cleared this past December, compared with just 16 km² (6 mi²) reported last year for December 2009, a rise of 994 percent.
In addition to deforestation, areas of Amazon degradation have also increased at an alarming rate. IMAZON notes that 541 km² (209 mi²) were degraded in December 2010. Throughout that month in 2009, only 11 km² (4 mi²) were impacted -- representing an astonishing increase of 4,818 percent.
Unfortunately, while last year ended poorly for the Amazon rainforest, the trend seems to be carrying into the new year. Just last month, 83 km² (32 mi²) of forest were cleared and 376 km² (145 mi²) degraded -- representing increases over last year's rates of 22 and 637 percent, respectively.
The latest figures of devastation confirm concerns outlined by Brazil's Institute of Space Research (INP), which uses satellite imaging to monitor deforestation. Infrastructure projects, like the construction of new dams and highways, and the expansion of agricultural areas are considered the most probable culprits for the dramatic rise in the rates of forest loss. Recent figures released by INP indicate a 10 percent overall increase in deforestation for the period from August 2010 to January 2011.
These findings stand in stark contrast to downward trend in deforestation over the last several years, and are the first indications of an increase in forest loss in more than two. It may be too soon to tell whether or not the latest reports are simply outliers, or if the tides have changed for the largest and most important forest on Earth.
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