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High-resolution satellite datasets show doubling of gross tropical forest carbon loss worldwide over past two decades

Scientists have found that carbon emissions due to deforestation in tropical areas have doubled over the past two decades. The study has been published in the journal Nature Sustainability. Scientists described using high-resolution satellite datasets to calculate the amount of tropical forest which has been cut down for agricultural use over the past 20 years.

Cutting down tropical forests increases carbon in the atmosphere in two ways. The first is because of the carbon increasing in the atmosphere rather than being sequestered in trees. The second is the carbon released when trees are burned to clear land for agricultural purposes. Previous research has shown that burning forested areas is the second-largest source of carbon emissions. Research has also shown that the world has lost approximately 10% of its worldwide forest cover, in just the past 20 years.

Scientists suggested that prior research to measure the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere due to deforestation have been misguided. Scientists noted that efforts such as the Global Carbon Budget 2021 were based on limited data. This data overlooked small-scale deforestation and the movement of land-clearing into mountains. This is why scientists found only slight declines in carbon loss due to deforestation.

In the new study, scientists took a different approach. They collected high-resolution satellite data for the years 2001 to 2020 and tracked tropical forest loss year by year. They found that there was far more loss than has been reported by other researchers. They found losses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil. They also found that more forest has been cleared in mountain regions than previously thought. This is a significant finding because trees in these areas are thought to hold more carbon. Scientists measured the amount of lost forest coverage. They calculated the amount of carbon sequestering loss and emissions increases. They found that carbon emissions due to deforestation have more than doubled over the past two decades.


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