NASA satellite images reveal more Amazon deforestation
August 8, 2006

Newly released pictures from NASA show deforestation continuing in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

In the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, verdant green Amazon Rainforest is broken up by broad tracts of pale green and tan deforested land. The transformation from forest to farm is evident in the photo-like images, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite. The top image was taken on June 28, 2006, while the middle image is from June 17, 2002. The bottom map shows the difference in deforested areas over the time period, with some of the largest cleared areas marked in red. On this map, areas that were non-forested (either naturally or already deforested) in 2002 are light gray, while areas that remained forested in 2006 are darker gray.

Although some deforestation is part of the country's plans to develop its agriculture and timber industries, other deforestation is the result of illegal logging and squatters. The Brazilian government uses MODIS images such as these to detect illegal deforestation. Because the forest is so large and is difficult to access or patrol, the satellite images can provide an initial alert that tells officials where to look for illegal logging.

These images were produced by the MODIS Rapid Response Team, which provides both the 2006 and 2002 images in a variety of resolutions, including MODIS'maximum resolution of 250 meters per pixel. NASA images courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at Goddard Space Flight Center. Map by Robert Simmon.

According to the Brazilian government, nearly half of Amazon deforestation in 2003 and 2004 occurred in Mato Grosso, though total forest loss in the Amazon basin dropped by about 37 percent between 2004 and 2005, from 10,088 square miles (26,129 sq km kilometers) to 7,298 square miles of rainforest (18,900 square kilometers).

The new NASA images show the ongoing transformation of the biodiverse rainforest for pastureland and farms. 60-70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon results from cattle ranches while the rest mostly results from small-scale subsistence agriculture. Despite the widespread press attention, large-scale farming (i.e. soybeans) currently contributes relatively little to total deforestation in the Amazon. Most soybean cultivation takes place outside the rainforest in the neighboring cerrado grassland ecosystem and in areas that have already been cleared. Logging results in forest degradation but rarely direct deforestation. However, studies have showed a close correlation between logging and future clearing for settlement and farming.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has recently moved to set aside more of the Amazon for protection, establishing several parks over the past year. While recent research has demonstrated that reserves do indeed cut deforestation, last year's slowing in the deforestation rate is more likely due to due to lower commodity prices, giving farmers less incentive to clear forest land. The recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Mato Grosso do Sul, has also probably had an impact on forest clearing for cattle grazing.

Since 1970 Brazil has lost over 232,000 square miles (600,000 square kilometers) of rainforest in the Amazon. Nevertheless, the country still has about one-third of the world's remaining tropical rainforest cover. Scientists estimate that perhaps 30 percent of the world's species live in the Amazon rainforest but some are concerned that continued deforestation and the looming risk of climate change could put the region's biodiversity at risk. Last year the Amazon suffered the worst drought on record.

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