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Google has rolled out the beta version of a new web service devoted to the study of global deforestation trends.
Launched in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI), Global Forest Watch is an online monitoring system that allows users to observe and track changes in forests across the planet. The service documents changes in near-realtime using an array of tools—including satellite imagery and mobile technology—and maps these changes with engines like Google Earth and Google Maps.
“By accessing the most current and reliable information, everyone can learn what’s happening in forests around the world,” Google explained in a press release. “Now that we have the ability to peer into forests, a number of telling stories are beginning to emerge.”
The company points to the U.S. South as an example of one of these stories. Forests grown and harvested as crops over five-year cycles—“production forests,” as they’re known—are widespread throughout this region. Global Forest Watch clearly depicts these changes since 2000, with color codes representing losses and gains in cover year over year.
The free service visualizes a range of other data sets, including tropical forest carbon stocks, logging operations, and conservation lands.
As a tool, Global Forest Watch may help journalists, activists, and nonprofits document or publicize trends in deforestation and forest development. Perhaps just as important, the service raises awareness of the importance of global forests in maintaining healthy ecosystems.
According to data compiled by the University of Maryland and Google, the world lost more than 500 million acres of forest between 2000 and 2012. Over the same period, the planet gained a mere 0.8 million acres of forest cover.
“Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the WRI, in a statement. “From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognized for their stewardship.”