Amazon Deforestation Rising

Amazon Deforestation RisingAmazon Deforestation Rising

The Brazilian government has officially confirmed that deforestation in the Amazon is pacing sharply higher than a year ago.

Figures released last week by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that forest clearing detected by DETER — a short term deforestation monitoring system based on coarse satellite imagery — is 63 percent higher for the twelve months ended January 31, 2015 relative to the year earlier period, Mongabay reported.

The data lends further weight to figures released earlier by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO, which showed forest destruction pacing 161 percent ahead of last year's rate. Imazon's short-term deforestation tracking system is also based on coarse satellite imagery. Both systems are intended to serve as alert systems to enable law enforcement against illegal forest clearing rather than comprehensive assessments of forest loss.

Both Imazon and INPE tally overall forest loss in the Amazon on an annual basis for the year ended July 31, corresponding to the height of the dry season when the largest extent of the Amazon is cloud-free. Those assessments use higher resolution Landsat data, which requires more analysis but provides a more precise estimate of how much forest was cleared during the previous year. Imazon also tracks forest degradation caused by selective logging and fire, which usually greatly exceeds the area cleared each year.

While the new data is preliminary, it is nonetheless alarming, raising concerns that Brazil's recent progress in curbing deforestation in the world's largest rainforest may be in danger of reversing. The short-term forest loss numbers from both systems are the highest recorded in about six years. It's the fastest acceleration since consistent record-keeping began in 2007.