open-data-for-deforestationIn 2013, Matthew Hansen, of the University of Maryland, and his team produced, from satellite imagery, the first high-resolution global maps showing where parts of the globe are growing or growing. disappearing trees. These images were used to detect large-scale patterns, such as that Indonesia had almost caught up with Brazil in the destruction of tropical forest mass. They have since refined their methods and can reveal tree loss in a matter of days. And most importantly, they give free public online access to the underlying data so that activists, companies and governments can monitor and scrutinize deforestation activities on the spot, according to the Nature.

The tool could thus even be used for countries to scrutinize each other’s respective forest mass, a crucial step in compliance with the Paris agreement against climate change.

Hansen and his colleagues have worked for the last decades on the development of a “globally consistent and locally relevant” product, for the best visualization of the ecological footprint of the human being from information accessible to everyone, with the aim to respond to governments and organizations with limited resources to carry out field work to control the forest mass or implement monitoring systems in situ. To do this, they have worked on the creation of programs that identify different types of vegetation through the data collected by satellite sensors.

However, and although there is unanimity that they have ushered in a new era in the measurement of deforestation, Hansen’s data have attracted criticism for, for example, the definition of forest used, which includes oil palm plantations and agroforests. For this and other reasons, some reputable voices express doubt that the data can be used to assess progress against international climate and forestry commitments. But where they have achieved undoubted milestones is in promoting a culture of sharing information, transparency, and public monitoring for scrutiny and pressure.

Further depth in the technique has led to the processing of specific near-real-time deforestation alerts in Peru, the Congo, and parts of Indonesia and Brazil, alerts that are published weekly on Global Forest Watch, and which have served the Peruvian government to shut down an illegal mining activity. By the end of the year, they aim to expand the alerts to the entire tropics, and later, to the entire planet.