Tropical Forest Decline Accelerated by 62 Percent Through the 2000s

First Posted: Feb 27, 2015 08:06 AM EST

It turns out that tropical forests are declining-quickly. Scientists have discovered that the rate at which tropical forests were cut, burned or otherwise lost in the 1990s through the 2000s accelerated by a staggering 62 percent.

"Several satellite-based local and regional studies have been made for changing rates of deforestation  [during] the 1990s and 2000s, but our study is the first pan-tropical scale analysis," said Do-Hyung Kim, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In order to get a better sense of the rate of forest loss, the researchers examined 34 forested countries which comprise 80 percent of forested tropical lands. Then, the scientists analyzed 5,444 Landsat scenes from 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010 with a hectare-scale resolution to determine how much forest was lost and gained.

So what did they find? During the period from 1990 to 2000, the annual net forest loss across all countries was 4 million hectares per year. From 2000 to 2010, the net forest loss rose to 6.5 million hectares per year. That's a 62 percent increase in the rate of deforestation. In fact, the last rate is the equivalent of clear cutting an area the size of West Virginia each year, or deforesting an area the size of Norway every five years.

Exactly where this deforestation is occurring is also important to note. Tropical Latin America showed the largest increase of annual net loss per year, and Brazil topped the list at .6 million hectares per year. Latin America was followed by tropical Asia, with similar trends across the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines. Tropical Africa showed the least amount of annual net forest area loss.

The new study is an important contribution to the overall picture. It also provides a benchmark of tropical forest clearing not provided by other means. This is particularly important to note since these forested areas play a huge role in the climate cycle.

The findings are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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