World’s forest cover shoots up 9pc after major Google Earth discovery

12 May 2017

Image: Jakob Fischer/Shutterstock

A substantial amount of forest land has just been ‘found’, meaning both good and bad news for our planet.

In a modern age where our entire world is mapped by satellites, we tend to think that we know almost everything there is to know about the Earth’s vast tracts of land.

However, new research published to the scientific journal Science has found that, astonishingly, we missed quite a lot of forest, according to The Conversation.

After some recalculations and some extensive image searching, the research team was astonished to find that the amount of global forest cover has now shot up by 9pc with the discovery of 467m hectares.

Equating to an area around two-thirds the size of Australia, the new forest land was found in areas dubbed ‘drylands’ that typically have negative precipitation due to a lack of rainfall.

According to the researchers, the dryland forests have remained undiscovered by ecologists because the low density of trees makes it difficult for them to track, despite covering vast amounts of land across the world.

In Africa alone, the new findings have doubled the amount of known dryland forests. Estimates show that the drylands contain 45pc more forest than previous studies.

Major boon to climate research

The breakthrough was achieved thanks to the Google Earth Engine database of more than 210,000 dryland images.

It was then just a matter of using a basic visual interpretation of drylands – accounting for 40pc of the Earth’s surface – and comparing it to accurate field information for these areas.

What makes this discovery so important for the planet, the researchers said, is that drylands play a crucial part in both climate change research and our planet’s ability to store CO2.

Estimates predict that by the end of this century, dryland areas could expand by as much as 23pc, which could lead to a biome covering more than half of the Earth’s land surface.

By carefully monitoring drylands now, it is hoped that we will gain a better understanding of its spread in the years to come.

Meanwhile, the addition of such an amount of forest could be beneficial in our attempts to reduce the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere through carbon budgets set out by the recent Paris Agreement.

Jean-François Bastin and his team believe that this discovery means the amount of carbon that can be stored by the planet’s ecosystem has risen between 15 gigatonnes and 158 gigatonnes, or between 2pc and 20pc.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic