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Brazil’s satellite data suggests rise in Amazon deforestation over past year

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon appears to have risen significantly over the past year, according to data released by the country’s space agency, INPE.

Data aggregated from INPE’s monthly deforestation alert system shows a 34 percent rise for the 12 months ended July 31, 2013 relative to the year-earlier period. Brazil tracks deforestation on an August 1 through July 31 basis.

The numbers are less dramatic than those released by Imazon, an independent Brazilian NGO, last month. In aggregate, Imazon’s deforestation tracking system shows a 92 percent rise in forest loss over the period.

Comparing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013

Near-real-time deforestation data for the Brazilian Amazon

However the numbers are considered preliminary because they are derived from the relatively low resolution near-real-time deforestation detection systems, which only measure deforestation in areas greater than 25 hectares. More accurate data — based on higher resolution Landsat imagery that measures clearing down to 6.25 hectares — is typically released in December or January.

Nonetheless the low resolution data is generally useful for identifying trends. In three out of the past four years, aggregated DETER data has accurately predicted whether deforestation had risen or fallen for the year in question. For example, last year aggregated DETER data suggested a 23 percent drop in forest clearing. The final amount for the 2011/2012 year was a 29 percent drop, according to INPE.

Monthly alerts aggregated (sq km)
Year-end assessment (sq km)
2007/08 8,147 12,911
2008/09 4,375 -46% 7,464 -42%
2009/10 2,296 -48% 7,000 -6%
2010/11 2,680 17% 6,418 -8%
2011/12 2,051 -23% 4,571 -29%
2012/13 2,757 34%

The newest numbers from INPE weren’t all bad news however. Forest loss in August 2013 was 45 percent below August 2012. Furthermore, the final 2012/2013 deforestation figure for the Brazilian Amazon is expected to still remain well below the level of just five years ago.

Under the government’s national climate plan, the 2013 target is to keep Amazon deforestation under 8,000 square kilometers. Next year the limit ratchets down to 5,586 sq km. Overall Brazil, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the Amazon, aims to reduce deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest by 80 percent by 2018.

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