Can mapping save the tropical forests?

3 Jan 2018

Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) is the biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emmisions in most tropical countries. Conversion of tropical forests to palm oil, cocoa, coffee and tea plantations, and to soya fields is one of the main driver of climate change and biodiversity loss.

70% of the Brazil GHGs emissions are from LULUCF. Of this 2/3 are from land use change and 1/3 are from land use itself. But it is not just enough to calculate forest loss, it is also important to know what are the drivers of deforestation; mining, cattle, agriculture or forest plantations. “We need to move from monitoring tree cover change to something more complex, which is land use change, and to understand those dynamics” stated Tasso Azevedo, general coordinator of Brazilian multi-institutional initiative MapBiomass at the Landscape Talks during Global Landscape Forum in Bonn.

Since the 80’s several systems to monitor deforestation through remote sensing have been implemented. Government created few land cover/use maps, but this traditional method was expensive, slow and required lots of equipment, software and interpreters.

That was one of the reason why MapBiomass initiative developed cheap, fast and reliable method to produce the historical annual land use/cover maps of Brazil. They produce maps by taking Landsat image collection, process those image pixel by pixel and organize by standardized maps tiles. Data, analysis, tools and script they have published are in an open cloud base platform to facilitate the dissemination and adoption of the method in other regions and countries. After two years of starting the project they have produced 17 maps that cover 2000-2017 period and by July next year they hope to have the entire collection from the 1985. On their web page is possible to find the maps with the land cover and with the all the different classes: forest, non-forest, farming, urban areas, etc.

In these maps you can navigate through the years, and see all statistics from different territories, and for every municipality, forest and watershed in Brazil. There is also a tool which shows all the transitions that are happening from one year to another (for ex. 2014-2107), to check all the transitions, deforestation, reforestation and watershed changes. All the data, maps and the statistics are available for download or on Google Earth engine platform. Since the launch of the program, it has been used for different applications, from calculating deforestation rate of all Brazil, GHGs emission to calculating risk assessments.

Another tool for easier mapping and monitoring LULUCF is MabHubs, which goal is to make mapping fast, easy and affordable for everyone and to engage local communities to use spatial data.

“To make maps like this you need tons of different data; the oil palm concession data came from the range of Watchdog organizations working on the ground, and also by collecting information directly from companies and governmental agencies, we have also collected information from satellite imagery from Sentinel/Landsat, satellite imaginary from Planet and tree cover loss data from University of Maryland” explained MapHubs’s CEO and founder Leo Bottrill while presenting the maps that showed the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia (West Java), which replaced tropical lowland forests. He also showed how MapHubs platform allows users to upload and create new data, organize and draw data, and to share maps with the other stakeholders.

Many companies and organizations use MapHubs to map deforestation and other consequences of LULUCF, caused by palm oil plantations in Indonesia, cocoa expansion in Ghana or illegal logging in the Amazon. MapHubs team has also created a giant data set of palm oil concessions, to easier monitor palm plantations expansions and check which companies are the biggest destroyer of the tropical rainforests.

One of the positive example of using MapHubs is that after the article “Chocolate industry drives rainforest disaster in Ivory Coast” in Guardian, where they used MapHubs maps to show the deforestation of the protected areas as a result of expansion of the cocoa plantations; chocolate companies have committed to zero deforestation and to fund reforestation campaigns. “Maps and transparency can make a difference” concluded Leo Bottrill.

Blogpost by Sasa Danon- #GLFBonn2017 Social Reporter – sdanon(at)
Picture courtesy Moses Ceaser/CIFOR

This post is part of the live coverage during the GLF Bonn 2017 Global event. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

Share your thoughts with us