High-resolution satellite datasets show doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide over past two decades

High-resolution satellite datasets show doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide over past two decades
Regional forest carbon loss and its drivers across the tropics during 2001–2019. a, Spatial pattern of mean annual carbon loss. Black dots indicate mountain regions defined by GMBA inventory data. b–h, Trajectory of carbon loss resulting from different drivers in tropical America (b), tropical Africa (c), tropical Asia (d), Brazil (e), Congo basin (f), mainland SEA (g) and maritime SEA (h). The shaded area represents the s.d. estimated by four carbon density maps. Forest carbon loss includes aboveground and (committed) belowground biomass carbon loss and (committed) soil organic carbon loss. Credit: DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00854-3

A large, international team of researchers has found that carbon emissions due to deforestation in tropical areas have doubled over the past two decades. In their paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability, the group describes using high-resolution satellite datasets to calculate the amount of tropical forest that has been cut down for agricultural use over the past 20 years.

Cutting down leads to increases in in the atmosphere in two ways. The first is due to carbon increasing in the atmosphere rather than being sequestered in trees. The second is the carbon released when trees are burned to clear land for growing crops. Prior research has shown that burning forested areas is the second-largest source of , behind the burning of fossil fuels. Prior research has also shown that in just the past 20 years, the world has lost approximately 10% of its worldwide forest cover.

In this new effort, the researchers suggest that prior efforts to measure the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere due to deforestation have been misguided. They note that efforts such as the Global Carbon Budget 2021 were based on limited data that overlooked small-scale deforestation and the movement of land-clearing into mountains, which is why those researchers found only slight declines in due to deforestation.

The new team took a different approach. They obtained high-resolution satellite data for the years 2001 to 2020 and tracked tropical forest loss year by year. They found that there was far more loss than has been reported by other researchers and officials globally. They found losses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, and most specifically, Brazil, which was responsible for the biggest losses. They also found that more forest has been cleared in than previously thought, a significant finding because trees in these areas are thought to hold more carbon.

By measuring the amount of lost forest coverage and calculating the amount of carbon sequestering loss and emissions increases, the researchers found that carbon emissions due to deforestation have more than doubled over the past two decades.

More information: Yu Feng et al, Doubling of annual forest carbon loss over the tropics during the early twenty-first century, Nature Sustainability (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00854-3

Journal information: Nature Sustainability

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Citation: High-resolution satellite datasets show doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide over past two decades (2022, March 1) retrieved 8 December 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2022-03-high-resolution-satellite-datasets-gross-tropical.html
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