Global Rate of Deforestation 2011

  • Released Tuesday, November 15, 2011
  • Updated Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at 4:51PM
  • ID: 10873

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Graphic comparing three images of the U.S. National Mall:
First, as it looked in 1936.
Second, the Mall if it had been reforested at the same rate as the Eastern U.S. during the 2oth century.
Third, the amount of trees lost globally around the world every 15 minutes.

Earth's forests are of incalculable value; they are a vital component of the climate system - controlling gas, energy and water exchange between the surface and atmosphere; the tropical forests alone contain half of all biological species - diversity that underpins human and environmental wellbeing; they are a major source of revenue - timber, non-timber forest products and mineral reserves and they are the primary source of energy for over 2 billion people.

Forests have never been under more pressure. Demand for their natural wealth and a hunger for land causes forest clearance at alarming rates. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the Earth loses an area about the size of a football field every 3 seconds - in the time it takes to make a sandwich an area equivalent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is cleared... somewhere on Earth trees are falling every second of every day.

Based on a systematic sample of Landsat imagery at 4,016 locations around the tropical belt the European Commission's TREES 3 project is making estimates of forest cover change for the years 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010 with new levels of precision. Preliminary results emphasize just how relentless the pressure on our planet is. Using archived and recent Landsat imagery we have measured dramatic changes to the African Continent for example. Since the 1970s natural vegetation (forests and savannas) have been converted to agricultural land at a tremendous pace. Around 50,000 sq. km per year are cleared - an area twice the size of Vermont. With the fastest growing population in the world such land cover conversions are unlikely to slow down any time soon, nor should the measuring programs. Landsat 8 and its European counterpart, Sentinel 2, are not being launched any sooner than they are needed.

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The U.S. National Mall in 1936 taken from the Washington Monument.

Photograph obtained from the Cornell University Library with no know copyright restrictions.

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How the U.S. Mall would look if it had been re-forested at the average rate of the Eastern U.S. during the 20th century.

Image modified by Alan Belward.

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Every 15 minutes around the world, an area of forest the size of the U.S. Mall is lost.

Image sources: Cornell University Library and Tyrell Photographic Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia. Modified by Alan Belward.


Please give credit for this item to:
Alan Belward. Non-copyrighted images from Cornell University Library and Powerhouse Museum.


This visualization is related to the following missions:

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