Earth's Journal

Biosphere Journal Entry

Satellites Track Amazon Deforestation (September 24, 2005)


Satellite map shows destruction to Brazil's Amazon rainforest in 2002 (yellow), 2003 (blue) and 2004 (red). NASA MODIS.

More and more, scientists are relying on satellite pictures to help visualize deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. Recently, a team of scientists used NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor onboard its Terra and Aqua satellites to help map out damage to the forests.

The picture on the right shows areas of the rainforest deforested in 2002 (yellow), 2003 (blue), and 2004 (red). Areas in gray were deforested before 2002 or don't have forests.

Since the 1980s, Brazil's rainforest has been destroyed at the alarming rate of over 5 million acres per year, according to the Rainforest Action Network. At one time, the nation had over 1.1 million square miles (2.8 million square kilometers) of rainforest. Now, the total is less than 0.7 million sq. miles (1.8 million sq. km).

Worldwide, an estimated 78 million acres of rainforest are lost each year, an area roughly the size of Poland. Scientists estimate the planet is losing an average of about 50,000 species that inhabit these forests each year. These species become extinct as their habitat disappears.

There are many different causes of this habitat destruction in the forests. The main ones are logging, cattle ranching, farming, mining, oil exploration, and hydroelectric dams. The common denominator in all of these is the continuing expansion of human settlements just about everywhere on the planet.