Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Earth Google

Global Deforestation Demoed In Google Earth 207

Posted by kdawson
from the woodman-spare-that-tree dept.
eldavojohn writes "On Google's official blog, they claim a 'new technology prototype that enables online, global-scale observation and measurement of changes in the earth's forests.' Ars has more details on what Google unveiled at Copenhagen. If you have Google Earth installed, you can find a demonstration here. Many organizations and government agencies are on board with this initiative to put deforestation before the eyes of the public. If only satellite data of North America existed before the logging industry swept in!" It's interesting to contemplate the implications for intelligence gathering of Google's automated tools to compare satellite photos.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Global Deforestation Demoed In Google Earth

Comments Filter:
  • Trees (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arizwebfoot (1228544) * on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:14PM (#30404698)

    Interestingly, before the white man appeared in North America, there were an average of 8 trees per acre and now there are an average of 220 trees per acre in the US alone.

    Just saying...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Remain exactly where you are! THINKPOL is on the way to take you to MINILUV for rehabilitation.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by AlphaBit (1244464)
      Exactly, the logging industry (as related to paper production) uses farmed trees. This means that the paper/logging industry has led to an increase in the number of trees growing in North America, while at the same time no longer contributing to deforestation. I believe almost all of our paper comes from these farmed trees.

      Of course, increased forest cover could be just as bad as decreased forest cover. It's more about balance than maximization.
    • Re:Trees (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Tekfactory (937086) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:27PM (#30404874) Homepage

      8 Trees per acres sounds about right for centuries old trees in pristine forest.

      I have a quarter acre with 5, 30-40 year old maples on it, we also have 2 Japanese Cedars and a Cherry tree.

      200 trees in an acre would be pretty closely spaced young trees, maybe like an orchard or nursery.

      Now what we should be looking at is not how many trees we have per acre, but how many of those are young AND carbon absorbing trees, compared to carbon producing trees from decomposition. Forests have a carbon life cycle, and their balance shifts during that cycle, also some species of tree are better absrbers than others.

      • Forests and Jungles are generally carbon neutral.

        Every atom of carbon that a plant absorbs is naturally released when the plant decomposes.

        A natural Forest or Jungle is a collection of plants in all parts of their life cycle. Simple math tells me that they don't absorb net carbon.

        Unless we're talking about a swamp that is in the process of storing young hydrocarbons (there's a word for them, IIRC the Okefenokee is a rare example). The carbon has to go somewhere.

        Tree farms on the other hand 'sequest

      • Re:Trees (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:51PM (#30405240) Homepage

        It's important to note that the North American forests were not "pristine" when the white folks showed up. The people who had lived there for a few thousand years had practiced some fairly sophisticated forest management. For instance, they would regularly clear undergrowth to make it easier to travel and hunt, and put significant effort into managing herd sizes. They also cleared some spaces for agriculture, which the Pilgrims in particular took advantage of when they went to set up their own colony.

        • They also practiced the same slash and burn agriculture that is now devastating the rainforest, their populations were just never high enough for it to catch up to them in the same way.

          • by haruchai (17472)

            It wasn't just a matter of population - they had to do it all with hand tools. Let me tell you, if you haven't tried it - clearing
            dense growth by hand is very hard work. I did it several times a year for about 4 years and I would rather freeze and starve
            to death before I'd do that again.

    • Re:Trees (Score:4, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:39PM (#30405060) Homepage Journal

      [Citation needed]

      • Re:Trees (Score:5, Informative)

        by piltdownman84 (853358) <`piltdownman84' `at' `mac.com'> on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:59PM (#30405342)

        [Citation needed]

        Not the op, but the number I have is: Natural Density in California is 60 trees per acre, but it currently is at 273 per acre. From "Green House Gas Emissions From Four California Wildfires: Opportunities To Prevent and Reverse Environmental and Climate Impacts" (PDF) [calforestfoundation.org]

        • by tmosley (996283)
          Yes, but that is California, which is mostly mountains and desert. There are more trees now because water is being diverted there from elsewhere. Check the numbers and you'll probably see a greater decline in tree populations in neighboring states.

          Of course, I agree with the thesis of the article. I saw pictures of my hometown from a hundred years ago, and there wasn't a tree in sight, but now it's like living on Kashyyyk. There are huge pine trees everywhere where the land isn't kept clear. I'm sur
        • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

          "We are not running out of trees or forests. America has three-and-one-half times more forest land today than it had in 1920. America is growing 22 million new acres of forest annually while harvesting but 15 million acres, for a net gain of 7 million acres each year."

          A quick google search reveals this quote from '92 [cato.org].

          I'm sure it wouldn't take much more searching to find other comparable numbers. I'm guessing that 1920 in the quote was picked because it is a low point, but still, it's not like we currently

    • Question... I've seen some old-growth trees in New York's Adirondack Mountains (and elsewhere) that are 200+ years old ... their diameter is more than the reach of my arms. Meanwhile, all the trees in more recently-logged areas, which are maybe 50 or 80 years old, or less, are much, much smaller. Do the bigger, older trees do more for the environment? Or do the smaller trees make up for it in volume?

    • trees != forest. Tree farms growing slash pine in rows for pulping don't create the same sort of environment as natural forests that have 300+ year old trees where the trees themselves have their own micro-ecosystems. Don't be ignorant.
    • by Ziest (143204)

      Bullshit. Cite your references

    • Citation, please? 220 don't sound right. Even 8 seems like a lot.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      I'm glad the natives cataloged these statistics for us.

  • The original poster wishes he could see North America before the logging industry swept in. Around 30-50 years ago, his intuition would have been rewarded. But, for the last decades, much of the United States has actually been reforested, rather than deforested. The reasons for this are complex and mixed, but some factors include the original mills going out of business in the Northeastern USA, adoption of better forestry practices, a reversion of farmland to homesites - which invariably means planting even more trees, and so on.

    Indeed, Americans have been catching something of a break as they have planted so many trees that North America would be a net carbon sink, if they didn't also drive so many cars. This picture changes as all the new trees mature and their carbon uptake decreases. But, the important lesson here is that while Americans might be bad about CO2 emissions, they have, in their own way, also showed how areas can be reforested, that were once barren.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Trees don't remove CO2 from the atmosphere in any permanant way.

      Half the CO2 the take in during the day is put back out at night, and the rotting foliage put it's CO2 back into the air.

      That said, it's not like planting trees in the US will compensate for the rainforest's loss. Thats like saying poking holes in your body make up for the loss of your lungs.

      • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:55PM (#30405294)

        Trees don't remove CO2 from the atmosphere in any permanant way.

        If you go from 0 trees, to 1 tree that you replant every time the old one dies then you have removed 1 trees worth of carbon from the air as long as you keep a tree growing.

        If you go from 0 trees to 1 tree that you harvest every time it is fully grown and use the wood in building a house or some other permanent structure and keep replanting that tree every 10-15 years then you are removing 1 tree's worth of carbon from the atmosphere every 10-15 years.

        It is only if you plant a tree and let it die and decompose and plant no additional trees that your example holds.

        • by adamchou (993073)

          If you go from 0 trees to 1 tree that you harvest every time it is fully grown and use the wood in building a house or some other permanent structure and keep replanting that tree every 10-15 years then you are removing 1 tree's worth of carbon from the atmosphere every 10-15 years.

          Yea, but every time you take a tree, you don't restore the nutrients in the ground. So its unlikely the cycle will continue to be 10-15 years. It will grow to be longer and longer as it takes more time to replenish the nitrogen in the ground.

      • by tjstork (137384)

        That said, it's not like planting trees in the US will compensate for the rainforest's loss. Thats like saying poking holes in your body make up for the loss of your lungs.

        Planting trees in the USA could compensate for the rainforest loss, if we did indeed plant enough. This would be a massive terraforming project in the Southwestern USA, for sure, but, it certainly could be done.

      • by khallow (566160)

        That said, it's not like planting trees in the US will compensate for the rainforest's loss. Thats like saying poking holes in your body make up for the loss of your lungs.

        That's a dumb metaphor and you should know it. It's a modest compensation. It's more like losing a million bucks, then getting a few tens of thousands of it back. It's replacing some part of what is lost.

        As an aside, I wonder how much reforestation goes on in the tropics. As far as I know, there isn't a lot of deliberate reforestation, but there is a bit of letting the land go back to jungle.

    • It is interesting to drive through certain areas in the northwest US and see entire forests which were clear cut a few decades ago but were replanted and now look just like a fully-grown forest (however you define that).

  • Oregon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fwarren (579763) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:17PM (#30404730) Homepage

    We have more trees here in Oregon now than were here 100 years ago or even 200 years ago. (Unlike nature, we don't let forest fires burn them down.)

    We plant them all over the place and take care of them. Every time we cut one tree down, we plant 3 to 10 more of them.

    We really are not deforested to the west of the Mississippi. Now east of the Mississippi is a different story. But no one is talking about deforestation on the east coast. They only talk about it out west where we have plenty of trees to go around.

    School kids went out 30 years ago on filed trips here in Oregon to plant trees. Why? As a reminder that most of the income in this state came from logging, and that timber was a renewable resource. If we plant trees today, then in 20 years when you are old enough to work a timber job, there will be plenty of trees to cut down.

    I live in a county that has been devastated by the loss of 80% of the logging industry. We have as many trees now as we had 30 years ago. The only difference is we have 15% unemployment and we can't cut and replant trees to actually make a living.

    Earth first -- we will log the rest of the planets later

    • by MaWeiTao (908546)

      I'd say east of the Mississippi is pretty heavily forested too. I can't help but wonder how much carbon dioxide is being removed from the atmosphere because of forests. I wonder if there are any metrics because it seems like any news posted about the environment is invariably negative.

      • by bill_kress (99356)

        Forests don't remove as much as you might think--although it is significant for above the surface, most of the work is actually done by sea life as I understand it.

    • Re:Oregon (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:37PM (#30405032) Homepage Journal

      "The only difference is we have 15% unemployment and we can't cut and replant trees to actually make a living"

      what does that mean?

      Also, forest fires don't burn down forests.

      "Every time we cut one tree down, we plant 3 to 10 more of them."

      Cite needed.

      "They only talk about it out west where we have plenty of trees to go around."
      there is a reason for that, it's called 'shifting baseline'. Basically it mean that people who grow up where there aren't trees have no reference to go by to realize there should be trees.

      In Oregon people cans ee the fantastic forests, and when they start to diminish they say something.

      Careful citing logging industry stats, they ahve a tendency to be massively incorrect.

      For example, According to the Labor dept.there are only about 8000 worker in the logging industry, but they would have you believe there are 100K +.

      • by bill_kress (99356)

        Another interesting point, a vast majority of loggers have been removed by the logging industry itself by optimizing them out through automation. While the price of wood keeps going up, they keep trimming work practices to improve their margins.

        If anyone really cared about putting loggers to work, they would found a company that used selective logging as opposed to creating the giant swaths of clear-cutting you see throughout Washington just outside the shallow strip of trees they leave beside the road. (j

        • by VoxMagis (1036530)

          Actually, speaking from my own life here in Oregon, there are so many complexities to this issue.

          I once truly believed we should stop clear-cutting and only allow select cut. I still do to some extent, but then the question becomes where do we sell that wood? The forestry industry has changed their cutting and added more machines and less men not just because of the cost (including liability, which is HUGE) but also to be able to compete with cheap lumber from around the world.

          Then you go to Coos Bay and

        • Really depends on where you're doing it. I worked for a while with a lumberjack from the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. He said most of the cutting they did around there was selective cutting by individuals.

          A fair amount of timber still comes out of private woodlots where owners have trees cut in stages every few years so that they have a steadier cash flow than if they just clear cut it.

      • by fwarren (579763)

        What does it mean?

        It means that when the big "spotted owl" controversy of the early 90's happened and the temporary injunctions on logging went into place, logging stopped and mills shut down.

        If the mills had not shut down and went out of business due to the lack of trees and those mills were still in place, we would have an unemployment rate down below 5%.

        I am going to college to improve my skills. Almost everyone else there over the age of 30 is someone who has lost their job due to layoffs in the logging

      • --Also, forest fires don't burn down forests.--

        Yeah, smoking bears with guns do.

      • by hyades1 (1149581)

        When people start talking about some kind of "total trees then and now" figure, let's not even get near a debate on the difference between an old growth forest and a one species tree farm. It would just get everybody upset.

    • Actually under Carbon Emissions restrictions passed in Europe, coal burning plants are burning wood pellets that are seen as carbon neutral. Many of the wood pellets burned in Europe come from the SouthEast US. The author of the BBC article I was reading this in wondered how long the united states will continue to ship wood pellets to Europe when it enacts its own Cap and Trade restrictions.

      The wood pellets can be made from young or old trees, sawdust, trimmings, scraps, wood pulp, anything.

      Likewise China h

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DeadDecoy (877617)
      We have more trees here in Oregon now than were here 100 years ago or even 200 years ago. (Unlike nature, we don't let forest fires burn them down.)

      Well, it helps that Oregon has rain 60% of the time throughout the year. In California the state has to do controlled burning to limit the damage a wildfire might cause. Plus Oregon's heavy rain system makes it easier to grow plants there; the only other place I've seen that has the same capacity have been the Hawaiian islands. Those benefit from frequent rai
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Actually, a lot of the area east of the Mississippi is doing pretty well on that front as well. Thanks in no small part to the conservationist types and Teddy Roosevelt, while most of the old growth forests are gone, a lot of new forests have grown up. For instance, New England went from almost completely forested to 30% forested, and is now 80% forested.

  • by jbeaupre (752124) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:18PM (#30404754)

    "If only satellite data of North America existed before the logging industry swept in!"

    Not from a satellites, but there are some maps. For example: http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nercNORTHAMERICA.html [ornl.gov]

    Note the complete lack of forests over most of NA about 15,000 years ago.

    or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Interior_Seaway [wikipedia.org]

    Not much forest under the ocean bits.

  • Demoed? (Score:2, Informative)

    Demolished or demonstrated? Maybe some Googelian combination of the two?

    fwarren: I believe fighting natural forest fires has proven to be policy error. For a citation please see the burning of Custer State Park. There are no more Smokey the Bear commercials because forest fires are actually necessary to prevent catastrophic fires. From what I remember reading, the 40+ years of Smokey the Bear campaigning, and fire fighting left MILLIONS of tons of fuel in the form of old dead timber.

    I guess I'm just t
    • by fwarren (579763)

      I did not say it was a good thing, I was merely siting it as a factor in why we have more trees.

      I believe the longer we go not cutting down trees, and clearing underbrush and just letting forests grow and grow doing everything we can to keep from letting them burn. We should be able to log and remove old dead growth. We are just making sure that eventually we will have a forest fire so big we won't be able to stop it.

      People in the timber industry want to cut down trees now (and remove the old dead ones) AND

  • I can recall using Google Earth shortly after it was first released to zoom around the earth, randomly poking at it with a stick. I was looking for anything that seemed to stand out, and I found quite a number of unique things in those days: weird geologic features in Brunei/Sarawak, the salt flats in the Andes, the gold/minerals rush in the Atacama desert.

    One of them was obvious overhead evidence of clear-cutting in southwest Australia. I've always had a silent fantasy about moving to Australia, believin

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:44PM (#30405134)
    We must think BIG and GLOBAL like GOOGLE! We will launch saplings into orbit on vast arks and scattershot them into the ground, thusly reforesting the world! Mwa ha ha! We call it the Forest Continuity Project and pay for it with lumber credits and carbon back bearer bonds and the illegal unicorn horn trade out of Romania! Yes, most of the trees will shatter on impact and fail to achieve a planted state, but if just one tree saves just one child then $50 trillion is worth it! Follow me, boys, into the glorious future and let the trees rain down o'er me!
  • The summary gets a little carried away. Google is basically offering cheap (or free) satellite imagery combined with cheap access to existing software and computing power. It's a good, socially responsible project on Google's part, but it's not the breakthrough in image processing that the summary implies.

    "It's interesting to contemplate the implications for intelligence gathering of Google's automated tools to compare satellite photos."

    The people who do serious, large scale, satellite intelligence gather

  • Seriously, we want to slow down deforestation? Stop using trees for paper products. The US needs to get over their high and mighty "We can't use hemp because its taboo" crap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Seriously, we want to slow down deforestation? Stop using trees for paper products. The US needs to get over their high and mighty "We can't use hemp because its taboo" crap.

      I was going to reply with a highly sarcastic rebuttal, but closer inspection shows that you may be right.

      Wikipedia reckons hemp grows at 'up to' 25 tonnes/hectare/year of dry above ground matter. This [greenwoodresources.com] gives 'up to' 13 tonnes/hectare/year for fancy 'high yield' hybrid poplar, intended for papermaking.

      There is a huge amount of wiggle room with those figures, 'up to' is often meaningless (I'm going to give you 'up to' 100 billion dollars) and both sources are doubtless from organisations trying to promote thei

    • Who is this "we' you use? In the U.S. the logging industry already replants trees to ensure that it will have trees to cut down in the future. It's not 1880 anymore.

      It is outside of the U.S. where the logging industry doesn't follow this model. And often it isnt for the trees themselves, but for the land they are covering.

      So I don't see how the U.S. using hemp for paper is going to have much of an affect.
  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Friday December 11, 2009 @02:54PM (#30405284)

    Just as long as people keep in mind that satellite photos don't always tell the whole story. A team of Canadian scientists went north recently in an ice breaker. Satellite imagery indicted that the pack ice had expanded rather than contracted, which was totally at odds with Global Warming models.

    What they found when they actually got to the location where the satellites indicated the pack ice started, it wasn't there. It had retreated more than a hundred miles beyond where it was thought to be. The satellite cameras had been looking at a slurry of rotted ice fragments that were so broken up the ship just blasted through them at full speed without even noticing it.

    Basically, the reality on the ground was very different from what appeared to be happening on cameras located a few miles overhead.

    • by cenc (1310167)

      That is easy for Google Earth in South America. Most of the sat maps on Google earth are well over 10 years old. For example, my office building does not show on Google earth, and it is at least 7 years old, the mall across the street is over 10 years old and missing. The place where my house (and 100 other houses now stand), is also just a field. That is just the high resolution urban areas. The rural areas have even older and less detailed sat images. It is like they bought the discount cold war images.

      Th

  • If you update/install Google Earth, you're also going to get a semi-stealth install of the Chrome browser to go along with it...whether you like it or not. The first time I noticed Google was trying to shove Chrome down my throat was AFTER I'd already initiated an update installation of GE.

    So be warned...if you don't want a little something extra with GE, you'd better skip this update.

  • Because it is only by doing that that we will get an accurate picture of where we are at now,
    and how significant any further changes one way or the other are.

    For example, I'd guess three quarters of the UK, continental Europe, and the Americas were forested at
    that time, with the remainder being grasslands and mountaintops.

    The challenge of global environmental issues is that they are enormous in both geography
    and time, and both of those scale problems make them difficult for us to plan for, understand
    economi

  • First hundred or so responses to the OP don't seem to like his lamenting that there's no satellite data showing the forest situation in the US, are busy asserting that there are more trees than ever before (with nary a citation or link in sight to reinforce this claim, but I guess that's because there's no comparative satellite data available...?), and I get the overall impression they really don't appreciate Google putting out this capability either, or the OP reporting it. Clampdown in effect, in other w
  • by fwr (69372)
    What's with all of the requests / demands for "citations?" This is Slashdot, not Wikipedia...
  • There was an argument that started way back when deforestation was first discovered.
    The fact that north america was quick to judge all other on going countries with deforestation problems
    yet not really talking about their past deforestation leading them to dissolve most of their own plant population.

    Some even went so far to say, who is USA to talk about Brazil, when Brazil could benefit from the sale of wood and lumber
    and become a richer country for it, equal to the US. However, after hearing this debate, I

  • I know this is slashdot, but the vast majority of posts so far are elaborate arguments about trees in the US, which is completely missing the point. Forest [...]swaths the size of Panama are lost each and every year. [nationalgeographic.com] Most posts therefore are mere red herrings. IOW, the world / the climate does not care much about Oregon.

    There's a lot more to deforestation than that: Fast Facts about Deforestation and Quick Actions to Prevent Deforestation [facingthefuture.org]

Whoever dies with the most toys wins.

Working...