New tool to monitor deforestation in real time

Google, with the help of around 40 partners, has launched a new global monitoring system that promises “near real time” information on deforestation around the world.

The project was partly funded by grants from governments, including the UK’s. The system, called Global Forest Watch (GFW) uses information from hundreds of millions of satellite images as well as data from people on the ground.

Businesses have welcomed the new database as it could help them prove that their products are sustainable.

Despite greater awareness around of the world of the impacts of deforestation, the scale of forest loss since 2000 has been significant – Data from Google and the University of Maryland says the world lost 230 million hectares of trees between 2000 and 2012. Forest campaigners say this is the equivalent of 50 football fields of trees being cut down, every minute of every day over the past 12 years.

The easy-to-use tool utilizes the technology behind Google Earth and Google Maps with algorithms specially developed by experts from the University of Maryland that scan collected images for sudden drops or spikes in vegetation.

“Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests,” said Dr Andrew Steer from WRI. “From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”

The GFW technology will allow campaigners and local communities to upload information, pictures and videos from vulnerable forest areas around the world. Also, for governments in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, the technology could be useful in helping enforce the laws on logging that are often flouted. And suppliers of commodities such as palm oil, soy and timber products can use the online database to show that their products come from legal and licensed sources.

So, those behind the new online tool believe it could not only allow campaigners to hold large corporations to account over the use of sustainable products, but could also promote greater trust between traditionally suspicious groups.

The tool is in beta version: