Satellite Data Shows Earth Has More Trees Than It Did 30 Years Ago

Sure, we hear a lot about deforestation and how cutting down so many trees is going to leave us with nothing but when it comes to land change, there is more to it than that. Globally we might actually have more trees than we did in the past at the moment but that doesn’t mean that bad things aren’t happening.

I recently came across a study that goes over global land change from 1982 all the way to 2016 and it really puts things into perspective. This study was led by Xiao-Peng Song as well as Mathew Harris. For this study, they took data from satellites over the course of the years noted above and analyzed them. They found that the world’s trees at the moment or as of 2016 were despite all the things tearing forests down these days were actually covering 2.24 more million square kilometers than they had been.

Three trillion trees, mapped to the square kilometre. Crowther et al / Nature

This study was published in the journal Nature and while yes, we may have slightly more trees, tree cover doesn’t mean forest cover and thus we are still losing forests. These findings actually confirm a serious loss of biodiversity in ecosystems and the damning of tropical rain forests. These researchers and their teams broke land cover down into three categories. Those categories being tall vegetation, short vegetation, and bare ground.

They wrote as follows in their research abstract:

Land change is a cause and consequence of global environmental change1,2. Changes in land use and land cover considerably alter the Earth’s energy balance and biogeochemical cycles, which contributes to climate change and—in turn—affects land surface properties and the provision of ecosystem services1,2,3,4. However, quantification of global land change is lacking. Here we analyze 35 years’ worth of satellite data and provide a comprehensive record of global land-change dynamics during the period 1982–2016. We show that—contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally5—tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 (+7.1% relative to the 1982 level). This overall net gain is the result of a net loss in the tropics being outweighed by a net gain in the extratropics. Global bare ground cover has decreased by 1.16 million km2 (−3.1%), most notably in agricultural regions in Asia. Of all land changes, 60% are associated with direct human activities and 40% with indirect drivers such as climate change. Land-use change exhibits regional dominance, including tropical deforestation and agricultural expansion, temperate reforestation or afforestation, cropland intensification and urbanization. Consistently across all climate domains, montane systems have gained tree cover and many arid and semi-arid ecosystems have lost vegetation cover. The mapped land changes and the driver attributions reflect a human-dominated Earth system. The dataset we developed may be used to improve the modeling of land-use changes, biogeochemical cycles and vegetation–climate interactions to advance our understanding of global environmental change1,2,3,4,6.

Sure, more trees might be good in regards to oxygen but we are still taking homes from animals and species that we may end up never seeing again for that very reason. What do you think about all of this?


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