Brazil plans Amazon tree census to assess deforestation
Most detailed study for forty years will also analyse climate change impact and allow ministers to examine forest ‘from within’
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 January 2013 14.43 GMT
A deforested area of rainforest along the border of the Xingu river in northern Brazil. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images
The Brazilian government is to launch a four-year tree census of the Amazon to improve understanding of the impacts of deforestation, climate change and conservation efforts.
The study will also help to assess the potential value of the biodiversity under the canopy and the growth of human settlements in the Amazon region, which is home to a number of fast-expanding cities, as well as uncontacted indigenous tribes.
The cataloguing operation will be the most detailed study for 40 years – a period in which the world’s greatest forest has come under unprecedented pressure from farmers, loggers and drought.
The environment ministry said the inventory “will allow us to have a broad panorama of the quality and the conditions in the forest cover”.
Improvements in satellite monitoring technology have already provided a wealth of data about the degradation of the Amazon.
Last week, Nasa released figures showing that an area twice the size of California continues to suffer from a mega-drought, which began eight years ago. Nasa said this may be the first sign that the Amazon is suffering major consequences from climate change.
The Brazilian government also uses a sophisticated satellite system to co-ordinate its actions against illegal forest clearance. The environment ministry says this has slowed deforestation and pushed Brazil halfway towards its Copenhagen commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36% by 2020.
However, there are limits to what can be analysed from above, particularly when it comes to the quality of the forest and the biodiversity below the canopy.
“We are going to come to know the rainforest from within,” said forestry minister, Antonio Carlos Hummel.
With the results expected to be released year by year, the environment minister, Izabella Teixeira, said the government would have more information on which to base its future strategies of conservation and extraction of economic value.