World’s tropical forests vanishing more rapidly than previously thought

From the Amazon to the Philippines, world’s tropical forests are vanishing at a much faster rate than previously reported, says a new study that analyzed satellite images of 80 percent of the world’s tropical forests.

Using more than 5,000 satellite images taken in 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010, a team of forest researchers from the University of Maryland found that the annual rate of deforestation from 1990 to 2010 was 62 percent higher than the previous decade. The new finding challenged the previous assessments by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which said deforestation actually decreased 25 percent in the same time period.

According to Do-Hyung Kim, the lead author of the study, the Forest Resource Assessment by UN’s FAO has been the only available source of information on the long-term forest change and its trends.

“The FAO report has been criticized for inconsistency in its survey methods and the definition of what is a forest. Our result is important in that we are providing a satellite-based alternative for the FRA,” Kim told Reuters.

From 1990 to 2000, the annual net of forest loss across all of 34 countries in the study was about 4 million hectares (about 15,000 square miles) per year. From 2000 to 2010, the net forest loss increased 62 percent to 6.5 million hectares (about 25,000 square miles) – roughly the size of Sri Lanka — per year.

The study suggested Brazil took the biggest hit with an annual 0.6 million-hectare loss (around 2,300 square miles), making up for almost half of Latin America’s net forest losses. Tropical Asia followed closely with 0.8 million hectares (about 3,100 square miles) lost every year, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Philippines.

The main factors responsible for increasing deforestation include the increase in urban population, growth of agriculture and logging, according to NASA. Reuters reports the loss of tropical forests is responsible for about 10 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

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