Deforestation rates in Amazon hit new high in first two months of 2020

Deforestation rates in the Amazon hit a new high in the first two months of 2020 with 181 square miles lost despite heavy seasonal rains, which experts blame on illegal logging operations

  • Satellite data from Brazil’s space agency show deforestation increasing in 2020
  • The Amazon lost 181 square miles of rain forest in January and February
  • The deforestation rates is a 70 percent increase over the same period in 2019

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon in January and February was 70 percent higher than during the same period in 2019.

According to satellite imagery from INPE, Brazil’s space agency, the Amazon lost 181 square miles of forest during the first two months of 2020, compared to 106 square miles lost in January and February of 2019.

It’s a bigger increase than was seen in 2016, during a mega-drought that was worsened by El Nino, when an estimated 133 square miles were lost.

New data from Brazil’s space agency, INPE, shows deforestation in the Amazon has sped up in spite of torrential rains during the country’s rainy season, losing 181 square miles of rain forest in the first two months of 2020

The findings were gathered as part of DETER, a program launched by the INPE in 2015 to use satellite imaging to study deforestation in the Amazon.

The increase has disturbed many because January and February are the rainy season in Brazil, meaning the burning operations commonly used to clear the forest are slowed significantly. 

‘The increase in the rates of deforestation cannot be explained by any climatic factor,’ the University of São Paulo’s Carlos Nobre told New Scientist.

‘It is likely to be due solely by the sense of impunity of the environmental criminals that law enforcement is very weak and absent.’ 

Nobre blames the significant increase on illegal logging operations that have been emboldened by the lack of any law enforcement to protect the Amazon. 

As the rains begin to subside, some worry the rate of deforestation will only accelerate.

While the rains make it much harder to clear space by burning the rain forest, experts point to illegal logging as the main source of the increase, and worry that even more forest will be lost later in the year, when the rains subside

‘The data shows a trend and it is likely that in 2020 we will see a continued increase in deforestation as the year progresses, especially as we move towards the dry season, when deforestation peaks,’ University of Oxford’s Erika Berengeur said. 

‘Unless there is a strong governmental response to the increase in deforestation, 2020 is panning out to be even worse than 2019.’ 

The deforestation rates in the Amazon were rampant throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, peaking in 1995 with a total loss of more than 11,580 square miles for the year. 

That figure was brought down to a low of 1,764 square miles lost in 2012. 

Since then, however, much of those gains have been erased–by 2019, the deforestation had climbed to 3,769 square miles lost for the year, more than double 2012’s low. 

According to the preliminary data for 2020, it’s likely this year will see even more forest lost than 2019.


Using Landsat imagery and cloud computing, researchers mapped forest cover worldwide as well as forest loss and gain. Over 12 years, 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) of forest were lost, and 309,000 square miles (800,000 square kilometers) regrew

The destruction caused by deforestation, wildfires and storms on our planet have been revealed in unprecedented detail.

High-resolution maps released by Google show how global forests experienced an overall loss of 1.5 million sq km during 2000-2012.

For comparison, that’s a loss of forested land equal in size to the entire state of Alaska.

The maps, created by a team involving Nasa, Google and the University of Maryland researchers, used images from the Landsat satellite.

Each pixel in a Landsat image showing an area about the size of a baseball diamond, providing enough data to zoom in on a local region.

Before this, country-to-country comparisons of forestry data were not possible at this level of accuracy.

‘When you put together datasets that employ different methods and definitions, it’s hard to synthesise,’ said Matthew Hansen at the University of Maryland.


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