Posted in | News | Climate Change | Ecology

Study Reveals Effect of Near-Real-Time Deforestation Alerts in Tropics

In African nations where a new satellite-based program offers free alerts upon detecting deforestation activities, forest loss has dropped by 18%.

Amazon deforestation. Image Credit: Oregon State University.

A collaborative study including Jennifer Alix-Garcia of Oregon State University determined that the Global Land Analysis and Discovery System, called GLAD, led to carbon sequestration benefits that were worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the first two years of its use.

The study findings were published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change.

GLAD is simple to use: Users subscribe to the system, launch a free web application, receive email alerts when deforestation is detected by the GLAD algorithm, and finally take action to preserve forests.

GLAD was launched in 2016 and gives alerts that have been made by the University of Maryland’s Global Land Analysis and Discovery laboratory depending on high-resolution satellite imaging obtained from NASA’s Landsat Science program. The data is made available to subscribers through the interactive web application, Global Forest Watch.

Before GLAD, government agencies and other groups in the business of deforestation prevention had to lean on reports from volunteers or forest rangers. Obviously the people making those reports can’t be everywhere, which is a massive limitation for finding out about deforestation activity in time to prevent it.

Jennifer Alix-Garcia, Economist, College of Agricultural Sciences, Oregon State University

She added that variations in land use create a great difference in how much carbon dioxide reaches the air and heats the planet.

Reforestation is good, but avoiding deforestation is way better—almost 10 times better in some instances. That’s part of why cost-effective reduction of deforestation ought to be part of the foundation of global climate change mitigation strategies,” she stated.

Alix-Garcia added that deforestation is the main factor behind the 40% rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide since the dawn of the industrial age, which in return is contributing greatly to a warming planet.

As per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in 2018 was 407.4 ppm, greater than at any time in at least 800,000 years.

According to NOAA, the yearly rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 in the past 60 years is approximately 100 times quicker compared to the increases caused by natural causes, like those that occurred following the last ice age over 10,000 years ago.

Alix-Garcia, study leader Fanny Moffette from the University of Wisconsin, and collaborators from the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute analyzed deforestation in 22 nations in the tropics in South America, Asia, and Africa between 2011 and 2018—the last five years before GLAD and first two years after.

In Africa, the findings were impressive: In comparison with the previous five years, the first two years of GLAD exhibited 18% less forest loss where the forest protectors subscribed to the system.

The researchers used an idea called the social cost of carbon—the marginal cost to society of every extra metric ton of greenhouse gas that reaches the air—to predict that the alert system was worth between $149 million and $696 million in Africa those two years.

The team noted that there was no significant variation in deforestation in South America or Asia. But there are several possible explanations for that and indicate that GLAD can make a huge difference in those places in the coming years.

We think that we see an effect mainly in Africa due to two main reasons. One is because GLAD added more to efforts in Africa than on other continents, in the sense that there was already some evidence of countries using monitoring systems in countries like Indonesia and Peru. And Colombia and Venezuela, which are a large part of our sample, had significant political unrest during this period.

Fanny Moffette, Study Leader, University of Wisconsin

The GLAD program is in its early stages and as additional groups enroll to receive alerts and take a decision on how to mitigate deforestation, the system’s impact might grow, added Moffette.

Now that we know subscribers of alerts can have an effect on deforestation, there are ways in which our work can potentially improve the training the subscribers receive and support their efforts.

Fanny Moffette, Study Leader, University of Wisconsin

Journal Reference:

Moffette, F., et al. (2021) The impact of near-real-time deforestation alerts across the tropics. Nature Climate Change.


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