SavingSpecies’ vice president Dr. Clinton Jenkins‘ analysis of new imagery from NASA’s Landsat satellite has uncovered evidence of massive illegal deforestation of Peruvian Amazon rainforest. This devastating new imagery illustrates that the most remote areas of the world’s tropical forests are being logged and fragmented deep away from human settlements and seemingly out of sight and mind from concerned people–and almost unbelievably quickly, too.
The images show forests in northeastern Peru, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. In 2012, this forest was untouched, appearing to be ‘protected’ by its remoteness. But the 2013 imagery illustrates a major change to the landscape: mass deforestation and the development of a large palm oil plantation.
Dr. Clinton Jenkins monitored the imagery after hearing rumors about the logging activities in the area. He and his colleagues had to wait every eight days for the satellites to pass over the area and take new images–and for a cloudless day for a clear photo. That finally happened at the end of August 2013, when the image of the deforested area was taken. What he saw proves how fast logging operations can fragment fragile tropical rainforests, even when they are believed to be remote and legally protected.
“By piecing together evidence from multiple Landsat 7 and 8 images, Jenkins and colleagues have estimated a deforestation rate of roughly 100 hectares (247 acres) per week in the tract they observed. As of early September 2013, at least one thousand hectares were cleared near Tamshiyacu, according to Jenkins. Using a NASA-funded dataset on tropical biomass, he estimated that 300,000 tons of biomass were cut down, equal to 150,000 tons of carbon emitted to the atmosphere. Scientists are continuing to monitor the area by satellite, but cloud cover continues to be a problem.”
Operated with the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA’s Landsat program has been recording images of the earth for scientists since 1972. The data are of great value to science in a host of fields, including agriculture, climate change, and ecology.
“Landsat imagery is essential for environmental monitoring because it is free, easy to access, and quickly available after the satellite passes over an area,” said Jenkins, an expert in remote sensing and using G.I.S. for conservation. “Satellites are the only way to monitor these areas because they are so large and so difficult to access.”
Dr. Stuart Pimm, president of SavingSpecies added: “People who harm the environment should know that they can run but they cannot hide.”