Aberystwyth University maps reveal extent of global deforestation and climate change

  • Video report by ITV News journalist Jess Main

A project managed and coordinated by Aberystwyth University has revealed the extent that deforestation and climate change is having across the world.

Maps revealing areas of the world’s forests, which have substantively changed over the past decade, have been published through the European Space Agency.

The space agency’s Climate Change Initiative Biomass project, which has brought together researchers from across Europe, uses satellite data to produce high resolution maps showing which of the planet’s forests are being lost or expanding.

The satellite maps illustrate substantive losses of forests through tropical deforestation and timber harvesting in the Amazon and central Africa, the impact of the recent bush fires in Australia, the impacts of larch disease in the UK and forest growth in some areas of Siberia.

Scientists say forests are one of the key natural methods of carbon capture by storing it in their trunks, branches and roots.When trees are cleared through the likes of deforestation or are consumed by wildfires, they can release this carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. This contributes to greenhouse gas concentrations, increasing global warming.The university says the new research allows the stocks of carbon to be estimated at a global level as well as their potential contributions to climate change.

As part of this project, Aberystwyth University and the European Space Agency have also collaborated with NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to develop a platform which can be used to access and improve global and regional means of tracking the loss of forest biomass.

The maps show the levels of Above Ground Biomass - how much of an area is covered by vegetation. Credit: European Space Agency / Climate Change Initiative / Aberystwyth University

Professor Richard Lucas from the Earth Observation Group at Aberystwyth University said: "Over recent decades, we have seen substantial losses of forest cover globally leading to the associated release of carbon that is adversely affecting our climate.

"We have also been watching the progressive loss of the world’s biodiversity. These new maps can tell us where biomass is distributed globally and how it is changing. We need to use this information now to prevent further losses of forest integrity and proactively ensure that they are actively sinking carbon into the future."Forests are really only restoring the losses caused by land use change over recent decades and centuries and are playing a lesser role in compensating for overall emissions. Achieving net zero emissions from other sources as soon as possible is therefore essential if we are to address our changing climate.”

Abersytwyth University says the researchers’ data can be viewed at the interactive Living Wales Exhibition at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, as well as on the European Space Agency Climate Change Initiative website.