Climate change, satellite imagery and forest loss

The international community of scientists and delegates have gathered in Paris for the annual Conference of Parties (COP21) this week.

They have been discussing the importance of recent climatic changes, with the aim of devising strategies and implementing policies to mitigate against global climate change, as the impacts will be adverse for people, wildlife and vegetation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) state that this is now inevitable and that we should attempt to reduce our emissions and adopt renewable energies on a larger-than-ever-before scale. But what information helps these people make decisions? The answer is scientific research, and a huge number of these studies utilise satellite imagery to understand how, and where, strategies should be implemented to help minimise these impacts.

One critical element they need to consider is forest protection, as global deforestation is reducing the biomass available for carbon uptake, as well as having a detrimental impact on wildlife habitats. Furthermore, the slashing and burning of forests is releasing vast amounts of carbon, exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

Studies such as that by NASA, have analysed global satellite imagery to assess and quantify forest disturbance. They found that, between 2000 and 2012, and a total exceeding 2.3million km2 of forest was lost, predominantly due to human deforestation. These results show that deforestation needs to be curbed, and this is vital information for those as the COP21.

Another critical element is Arctic sea-ice cover and glacial ice, which helps demonstrate the role that global climate change is currently playing. Satellite imagery can monitor the melting of these ice masses which is showing the impact of current change on our cryosphere. The melting of these has been currently accelerating, emphasising the importance of acting now to reduce our impact on the global climate.

Data such as that listed here can only be obtained using satellite imagery, as this allow maps to be created for large areas much quicker than any other method.

For more information, please watch this video by NASA Goddard.

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