There is an amazing new paper out in Science today, led by Matt Hansen and colleagues, which produces a global high resolution map of forest cover change across the world over the period 2000-2012. This study is a major advance on previous studies by combing the global availability of Landsat data with the computational power of the Google eEarth Engine. There is a great data visualisation and exploration tool here, definitely worth a play with and zooming in to high resolutions:http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/11/google-earth-deforestation/
High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change
M. C. Hansen, et al. Science
In the tropics, there are some fascinating elements apparent with this tool. We already had a good sense of what was happening in the Brazilian Amazonia thanks to annual reports by INPE and others, but this gives a wider high resolution picture. Over this period the southern Amazon arc of deforestation dominates, but this covers both the high Brazilian deforestation per 2005 and the huge slowdown since then, where large scale agro-pastoral clearing has almost come to a halt. But it has just been announced that Brazilian Amazon deforestation bounced up by 28% this year, so the slowdown is far from guaranteed. Lots of clearance in the drier forests of Bolivia and Paraguay. The much-deforested Atlantic rainforest seems to have broadly passed a forest transition, with areas of expansion and few areas of major loss.
In Africa the most striking thing is how static the humid rainforest biome is overall, with a few notable exceptions such as civil-war torn Côte d"Ivoire in West Africa. This is consistent with recent analyses by Mayaux et al and Rudel, suggesting a forest transition in West Africa, and the lack of an active deforestation frontier in Central Africa, because of minerals-heavy economies, heavy urban migration and (in the DRC) political instability. The dry forests of souhern and eastern Africa are experiencing much more loss, notably in Angola (despite its oil heavy economy), Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar.
In Asia it is striking how Sumatra and much of the circumference of Borneo are being picked apart. I suspect much of the "forest gain" in blue is oil palm plantations appearing (though have not studied the methodologies closely enough), No sign of stabilisation there, in either Indonesia or Malaysia. There is also a major deforestation front in Cambodia.
Outside the tropics to me the most striking thing is the lack of massive afforestation widely reported for China and reported by the FAO (see also the figure in the supplementary table). This might be causing some frowns in Beijing and Rome... Some big losses and gains in the boreal zones of Siberia and Canada, but much of this may be the fire dynamucs of this region.
Here is a BBC news item on the map.
There is a draft video available from NASA that highlights the work. (It's a LARGE file, be warned.)
Yadvinder Malhi is an ecosytem ecologist and Professor of Ecosystem Science at Oxford University