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Google-Powered Map Shows Deforestation in Near Real Time

Alexis Petru
| Thursday February 27th, 2014 | 0 Comments

RainforestThe Earth loses 50 soccer fields’ worth of forest land every minute of every day, according to data from the University of Maryland and Google.

But a joint effort from the World Resources Institute (WRI), Google and a group of 40 other businesses, governments and nonprofits aims to reduce that staggering statistic. Last week, the team of public-private partners launched Global Forest Watch, an online forest monitoring and alert system that seeks to reduce deforestation and improve forest management worldwide.

Using satellite technology and an open data system, the new mapping platform will show forest clearing in “near-real time,” providing monthly data on tree cover loss in the humid tropics at a resolution of 500 meters (1,640 feet). Global Forest Watch will also display annual data on tree cover gain and loss for the entire globe at a resolution of 30 meters (98 feet). Anyone with an Internet connection can view the forest map for free, download its data and sign up for daily forest fire alerts from NASA.

“Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, WRI president and CEO, in a statement. “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.”

Governments can utilize Global Forest Watch’s data to evaluate the effectiveness of their forest management policies, while nonprofits and communities can use the tool to keep an eye on forest land they are trying to preserve, WRI said on its website. Companies that have pledged to buy forest-friendly commodities like palm oil or paper can identify suppliers participating in illegal deforestation and better monitor their commitments.

“… Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan has set targets to source 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably. As we strive to increase the visibility of where the ingredients for our products come from, the launch of Global Forest Watch– a fantastic, innovative tool–will provide the information we urgently need to make the right decisions, fostering transparency, enforcing accountability and facilitating partnerships,” said Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman in statement.

Global Forest Watch also strives to empower individuals and communities affected by deforestation by crowdsourcing information on forest loss from people on the ground. Indigenous communities, for example, can upload an alert, photo or video to the platform, if their forest land is encroached upon.

But can an interactive online map really combat the complex problem of deforestation?

According to WRI, similar mapping technology already has. Real-time forest monitoring maps developed by the Brazilian space agency and Brazilian nonprofit Imazon have helped the country’s government rein in illegal deforestation. While Brazil’s Amazon rainforest saw a slight increase in illicit logging in 2013, the rate of forest loss has dropped 70 percent since 2004, WRI reported on its website.

The team behind Global Forest Watch hopes it will build on the success of Brazil’s forest mapping program, bringing accurate and up-to-date data on forest loss to businesses, governments and communities worldwide.

Image credit: Flickr/tauntingpanda

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru.


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