Armchair environmentalist can watch the devastation of Latin America’s forests as it happens via satellite images using the Terra-i system.
Every 16 days the system uploads fresh images covering every 250 square meters of ground. The system provides the first comprehensive eye in the sky view of all of the Western Hemisphere’s forests from Mexico to Argentina.
Terra-i doesn’t reveal good news for the tropical forests. In southeastern Colombia, deforestation increased by 340 percent between 2004 and 2011, according to the Terra-i website. Further south, one million hectares of forest were lost in the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay between 2004 and 2010.
NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellites provide the imagery for the Terra-i project. But the raw images don’t distinguish between natural vegetation loss and that caused by human activities.
“We developed a computational neural network and ‘trained’ it with data from 2000-2004 to recognize the normal changes in vegetation greenness due to seasonal variation in rainfall in different areas,’ said one of the developers of the Terr-i system, geographer Mark Mulligan of King’s College London, in a press release.
“The network now recognizes where and when greenness suddenly changes well beyond these normal limits as a result of deforestation,” Mulligan said. “The system runs on data for every 250 square meters of land from Mexico to Argentina shortly after the data comes in from MODIS and highlights every 16 days the pixels that significantly change, writing these results to Google Maps for easy visualization.”
Thick smoke hangs over the Amazon in Rondonia, Brazil (Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, NASA Earth Observatory)