This month a team of scientists published a paper in Science that quantifies global forest change, releasing a phenomenal online resource that is both beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.

The scientists from the University of Maryland used Earth observation satellite data to map global forest cover, discovering that while there had been a gain of 0.8 million square kilometers over twelve recent years (2000-12), almost three times as much forest cover had been lost (2.3 million square kilometers) in the same period.

Data on the high resolution (30m resolution) interactive map, powered by Google, are beautiful to look at, and the amount of forest, shown by green around the Earth, is awe-inspiring. The UK appears dark in colour given its sparse forest cover (read more) but zoom in and it is possible to see the relatively stable forest cover across much of the country, and even the activities of felling and replanting (shown by purple) in southern Scotland.

Elsewhere, hotspots of forest cover loss are easy to spot in red. Tropical forests exhibited a significant trend in forest loss, with rates of loss increasing by 2101 km² per year, with Boreal forests experiencing the second greatest loss of forest cover. Specific geospatial impacts can be seen on the map when zooming into some areas. One example highlighted by the authors is of Borneo, where Malaysia to the west has logged much of its land, the patterns of forest loss clearly following logging roads, while to east in Indonesia the forests look relatively stable. Another example shows loss of Boreal forest cover from man-made fires in Yakutsk.

Seen in this way, losses of forest cover are represented very powerfully. Not as much of course as when witnessed on the ground, as in the destruction of wildlife habitat, or impact on the livelihoods of indigenous people, but perhaps in a way that may help those working strategically to reduce deforestation, giving them potent visual statistics to support their vital work.

Visit the Earth engine Global Forest change map

Hansen et al. (2013) High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change. Science, Vol. 342 no. 6160 pp. 850-853. View abstract


  1. Gabriel, thank you for sharing this, I’ve heard a few people talking about it. Shocking images, and I hadn’t zoomed in so thanks to Andrew will have a further look at the UK. It really could be worse – you might have already seen the petition for interim grants ( aimed at the new Forestry Minister to try and stop an upcoming 2 year gap in tree planting grants from doing some serious damage to woodland cover in England.

  2. It is a very powerful map and data but the UK information is decidedly suspect – if you zoom in around Kielder for example, areas of FSC certified restocking have been classified as deforestation.
    This should not detract from the worrying data for tropical forest areas.

    1. Author

      That’s interesting Andrew. Are you sure that these areas were destined to be restocked with trees or just FSC-approved fellings? I imagine that the data used would have been derived from that produced by the Forestry Commission as part of their responsibility for reporting on behalf of the UK. As you say, interesting globally though, whatever our local experience suggests.

      1. No proof – but the pattern looks just like regular fell and restock to me.

        I’ve been looking at the maps on my iPhone so it is hard to be sure.

        I am no fan of thier restocking policies but even so I don’t think the FC would agree that their fsc approved management plans are “deforestation “

        1. Author

          Ah, ok I see what you mean now. I recommend that you look in detail at the maps as they show more than just loss but also gain, via restock or naturally.

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