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Terrestrial Tour: Falling Trees

The value of forests and the risks humanity faces as a result of deforestation are captured in photographs, maps, and satellite images. 


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

 ·       How tall are the trees? Perspective from the ground up: Pixabay
·        A forest fire: Pixabay
·        Autumn colors in a cloudy landscape: Pixabay
·        Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest: Wikimedia Commons
·        Forest as far as you can see: Pixabay
·        Myanmar’s jungle: Pixabay
·        Rice paddies and recently cleared forest land along road in Chiang Mai province: Takeaway/GNU Free Documentation License
·        Logging—clear-cutting the forest: Pixabay
·        Deforestation in New Zealand: Martin Wegmann/Wikimedia Commons
·        Land cleared for construction in Finland: Pixabay
·        Sumatran tiger: Nichollas Harrison/Wikimedia Commons
·        Arctonyx Collaris Hog Badger: Rushenb/Wikimedia Commons
·        Oriental bay owl, Phodilus badius: Rushenb/Wikimedia Commons
·        Monkey: Rushneb/Wikimedia Commons
·        Slash-and-burn agriculture in Thailand/Matt Magnum/Wikimedia Commons
·        NASA map by Robert Simmon, based on MODIS data from the Boston University Climate and Vegetation Research Group.
·        Wild Asian elephants at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand: Mammalwatcher/Public Domain
·        Four-day-old Sumatran rhinoceros: FunkMonk/Wikimedia Commons
·        Sitting sun bear: Tambako The Jaguar/Wikimedia Commons
·        Tapir: R. D. Wittle/Pixabay
·        Oil palm plantation in Indonesia: Achmad Rabin Taim/Wikimedia Commons
·        Oil palms in Malaysia: Craig/Wikimedia Commons
·        Cookies: Pixabay
·        Curd soap: Pixabay
·        French fries: Pixabay
·        Lipstick: Pixabay
·        Smoldering peat fire:  Chris Lowie/USFWS/Public Domain
·        Smoke at Great Dismal Swamp: Mike Petruncio/Public Domain
·        Haze in the city: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR/Creative Commons
·        Tesso Nilo National Park, Sumatra, Indonesia: A. C. Shapiro/Wikimedia Commons
·        Jungle burned for agriculture in southern Mexico: Jami Dwyer/Public Domain
·        Monarch butterflies: Pixabay
·        Traffic congestion in Al Bayda, Libya: Wikimedia Commons
·        Riau biosphere reserves: Ariau Aditya/Wikimedia Commons
·        Coast Redwood forest and understory plants in Redwood National Park, California: Micheal Schweppe/Wikimedia Commons
·        Choosing oil: Getty Images 
·        Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal: Rainforest Alliance
·        Grasslands and upland rainforest, Sabah, Eastern Malaysia: Gossipguy/Wikimedia Commons
·        Fruit: Peggy Marco/Pixabay
·        Indigenous Indians: Roosewelt Himheiro/ABr/Wikimedia Commons
·        Tropical fruit from Costa Rica: Falco/Pixabay

Video design and production by STScI
Text by STScI, based on stories from the NASA Earth Observatory: 
Music courtesy of APM


Forests are the lungs of our planet. Trees draw in huge amounts of carbon dioxide--a greenhouse gas that helps warm up the planet.
And they release oxygen, which we breathe. Around the world, however, people are cutting down trees--not just for wood but to clear land for other uses, such as farming or raising livestock.The process of clearing trees from the land--known as deforestation--reduces our planet's ability to soak up excess carbon dioxide from the air.It also eliminates habitat for wildlife and sometimes for people who rely on the forests for food and shelter. For several decades, the greatest rates of deforestation have been in the Amazon rainforest.1975: Deforestation in the Amazon typically begins with the construction of new roads. 1986: Loggers often build roads to access previously inaccessible stands of trees. 1992: Secondary roads are then cut through the forest at right angles to the initial road, creating a "fishbone" pattern. 2001: Farmers and ranchers usually follow, cutting down additional trees and setting the remaining brush on fire in a process known as "slash-and-burn" agriculture. Amazon Deforestation 2000-2012: The state of Rondonia in western Brazil has become one of the most deforested parts of the Amazon. Satellite images taken from 2000-2012 show roads and clearings pushing into the forest toward the Jaciparana River in northwestern Rondonia. Plumes of white smoke--likely where trees are being burned--occasionally appear. Intact forest is deep green, while cleared areas appear tan. From 2000-2006, this area in southern Rondonia near Pacaas Novos National Park was almost completely cleared. 2002: In the neighboring state of Mato Grosso, large patches of forest have been lost near the Xingu National Park and Indigenous Peoples Preserve, surrounding the upper Xingu River. 2006: Satellite images reveal where illegal deforestation has made its way into the park. In recent years, overall deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon have declined. Unfortunately, deforestation in some other Amazonian countries is on the rise. In 1995, a space shuttle astronaut captured this photo of a partially deforested area near the Parapoti River in Bolivia. When the International Space Station passed over the same area in 2008, astronauts saw that a much wider area of the forest had been cleared for commercial agriculture. This satellite image from 2012 shows a road leading into the rainforest of Peru. Less than a year later, large swaths of the forest had been cleared. These satellite images show a rapid expansion of deforestation in the remote Madre de Dios region of Peru. Driven by soaring gold prices, miners were clearing trees to access gold deposits there. These gold mines not only accelerated deforestation in the area but polluted nearby waterways with mercury, poisoning local residents and wildlife. Halfway around the world, deforestation has skyrocketed in the tropical forests of southeast Asia. Critical habitats for orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, sun bears, and thousands of other animal species are quickly disappearing. Many trees are being cleared in southeast Asia by loggers and to grow oil palm trees.Palm oil is used in thousands of everyday products on store shelves, from cookies and french fries to lipstick and soap.This satellite image shows palm oil plantations cutting into the forests of the island of Borneo. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's largest producers of palm oil, people often use fire to clear the land. But these fires are difficult to extinguish, because they ignite rich layers of peat--a soil-like mixture of partly decayed plant material. Peat fires can smolder for months, producing thick clouds of smoke and releasing far more greenhouse gases than other types of fires. In September and October 2015, thick smoke hovered over the island of Sumatra, leading to poor visibility, flight cancellations, school and business closures, and health warnings in Indonesia and neighboring countries. More than 43 million people were exposed to unusually high levels of smoke, and 19 deaths were blamed on the resulting air pollution. Tessa Nilo National Park preserves habitat for Sumatran Tigers and elephants, both of which are critically endangered. However, as these satellite images show, the park suffers from severe illegal encroachment. Forest cleared by logging appears in brown, while palm oil plantations appear light green compared to the dark green of the forest. In Africa, half of the continent's tropical forests lie within the borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, satellite observations show that the country lost more than 14,000 square miles of forest between 2000 and 2010. Population growth and violence have driven people into the forest in and around Virunga National Park, home to critically endangered mountain gorillas. Slash-and-burn agriculture and charcoal production have eaten away at the trees, transforming deep green forests into pale savanna.
The small, neighboring country of Rwanda is mainland Africa's most densely populated country. This population puts intense pressure on the land, evident in these satellite images of Gishwati forest, a reserve in the northwestern part of the country. Densely forested areas are dark green. In the 15 years spanned by these images--a time that included Rwanda's tragic genocide--waves of refugees moved into Gishwati forest and began clearing it--typically for farms. Only a small, circular patch of native forest remained by 2001.
In western Africa, a small part of Guinea nicknamed "Parrot's Beak," bordered by the Meli and Mokona Rivers, extends toward Sierra Leone, near that country's border with Liberia. Between 1974 and 1999, civil war in Sierra Leone and Liberia drove thousands of refugees into the Parrot's Beak. Commercial logging has cleared some of the forest there, but people have also cut down trees for housing materials, wood for charcoal, and space to grow crops. When viewing Earth from space, international borders typically disappear.
But deforestation can make those invisible borders visible. The large, brown area in this satellite image reveals a vast zone of deforestation in Thailand that stops near the country's borders with Laos and Cambodia. From space, a clear divide can be seen on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The brown, deforested lands of Haiti end abruptly at the border with the Dominican Republic, where many green forests still thrive.
In this satellite image from the 1980s, the border between Mexico and Guatemala is strikingly obvious. In Mexico, the forest had been cleared for agriculture, while in Guatemala it was largely untouched. Unfortunately, in more recent years, logging, cattle ranching, and agriculture have invaded the Guatemalan forest, making the border less distinct. Each winter, millions of monarch butterflies find shelter in the forested mountaintops of central Mexico. In the 2000s, satellite imagery revealed that illegal logging had ravaged much of this precious habitat in Mexico's Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Increased enforcement has reduced illegal logging in the reserve, but small-scale logging continues to be a problem. Global Population Growth: As the world's population continues to grow, our demands on Earth's natural resources continue to rise as well. We must work ever harder to protect our forests. In some places deforestation rates are declining, forests are being restored, and more land is being protected in reserves. Scientists and government agencies are using satellite images to help monitor deforestation in hard-to-reach areas, and to establish and enforce environmental policies. Consumers can help by purchasing products that are sustainably sourced and harvested. They can also encourage companies to use and sell products that did not come from deforested areas. By working together to protect the world's forests, we can preserve the incredible biodiversity that makes our planet unique, and prevent many amazing plants, indigenous cultures, and magnificent animals from vanishing along with the trees.