Google, Conservation Groups Debut Forest Monitoring Site

More than 40 groups came together to track deforestation across the world.

Google and the World Resources Institute teamed up with dozens of groups to launch a near-real time map showing deforestation across the world. Pink illustrates "forest loss" and blue illustrates "forest gain."

Google and the World Resources Institute teamed up with other groups to launch a near-real time map showing deforestation across the world. Pink illustrates "forest loss" and blue illustrates "forest gain."

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Now it's possible to fight deforestation without setting foot outside.

Google, the World Resources Institute and dozens of other science and conservation groups on Thursday launched Global Forest Watch – the world’s first near-real time "online forest monitoring system.”

Global Forest Watch harnesses Google Earth and Google Maps – plus local, regional and space satellite data from NASA and other agencies – to track logging, wildfires and other changes in forest cover.

“Up until … we launched Global Forest Watch, if you wanted to know what was happening to forests anywhere, it was extremely hard to find out,” says Nigel Sizer, director of the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Initiative, which led development of the site. “You typically would be going to reports online that contain data that’s years out of date, is often very contradictory and confusing and complicated. This takes the complexity of huge amounts of information about forests and presents it in a way that anyone can understand, use and act upon.”

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One of the site’s key findings: “Global forest loss far exceeds forest gain,” as described in a statement.

From 2000 to 2012, the site found that the United States alone lost more than 500 million acres of forests – more than twice the amount that was replanted, restored or regrown during the same period.

It’s a trend Sizer and Global Forest Watch’s other backers hope their map will change.

“Anyone can see what’s happening to forests, no matter where they live across the world, and get involved in areas to protect those forests,” Sizer says.

By allowing users to upload their own observations, and combining that information with data collected from across the world, the site offers a mind-boggling amount of data on deforestation (illustrated in pink) and forest growth (illustrated in blue). In fact, in the first 48 hours alone, the site drew more than 100,000 unique visitors from 171 countries.

“You can really just use this and run with the information,” Sizer describes. For example, corporations can harness the site to avoid using any agricultural products that may contribute to deforestation, governments can use it to determine where to focus logging enforcement efforts and native communities, schoolteachers and local citizens can turn to the site to monitor the health of nearby woods.

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Events like wildfires are updated daily, while deforestation in the tropics is updated every 16 days. The data overall will be updated every year.

"For the first time, we’ve created a truly global, interactive, near real-time system that can monitor what is happening to the world’s forests,” Sizer says.

To check out the map, visit GlobalForestWatch.org.