Good news: Deforestation in Earth's largest rainforest continues to plummet despite a rise in fires

An aerial view of a river in the middle of the Amazon rainforest

— Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon dropped to its lowest level since March 2018, according to new data from the Brazilian government.

— Deforestation for the year to date is down 40% compared to 2023, with expectations for a significant annual decline when the “deforestation year” concludes on July 31.

— Despite declining deforestation in the Amazon, the region is experiencing a rise in forest fires due to a severe drought.

— Deforestation is rising in the cerrado, an adjacent ecosystem.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continued to plummet in May, reaching the lowest level since March 2018, according to new data from the alert system run by Brazil’s national space research institute, INPE.

According to INPE’s DETER system, deforestation in May 2024 amounted to 501 square kilometers (193 square miles), an area 147 times the size of New York City’s Central Park. This tally brings the accumulated deforestation detected by DETER over the past year to 4,350 square kilometers, down 54% from the same time last year.

For the year to date, DETER has detected 1,182 square kilometers of forest clearance, down 40% from the 1,986 square kilometers recorded at this point in 2023.

A bar graph showing DETER deforestation alerts in the Brazilian Amazon from January 1 to May 31e 2009 per square kilometer
Accumulated deforestation for Jan 1-May 31 since 2009 according to INPE’s DETER alert system.
A graph that shows monthly deforestation alerts in the Brazilian Amazon since January 2010
Monthly and 12-month- moving average data for deforestation alert data from Imazon’s SAD system and INPE’s DETER system. Imazon is a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors deforestation.

The decline in deforestation registered by DETER mirrors the trend recorded by an independent system maintained by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO. Imazon’s system is seen as a check against official data.

The alert data suggests observers should expect a sharp drop in deforestation for the 12 months ending July 31, the period Brazil uses for measuring annual deforestation. July 31 corresponds with the peak of the dry season across much of the Brazilian Amazon, when cloud cover is at a minimum, facilitating efforts to measure changes in forest cover.

For the annual assessment, Brazil uses higher resolution satellite imagery, which requires more time for analysis. In contrast, the shorter timeframe of DETER enables authorities to take action against illegal deforestation if there is interest in doing so. Data from DETER and PRODES, the annual system, have a strong correlation.

A bar graph that shows the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2002 according to INPE
Annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2002 under each presidential administration, according to INPE’s PRODES system. Note: Temer took office on 31 Aug 2016 replacing Rousseff, while other presidents started their terms Jan 1. Also 2023 data is preliminary.

Last year, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon amounted to 9,064 square kilometers, down 22% from 2022, and the lowest annual figure since 2018. The decline accounted for the bulk of the drop in deforestation in the Amazon as a whole, since Brazil’s portion makes up about two-thirds of Earth’s largest rainforest.

While the decline in deforestation is a positive sign for those working to protect the Amazon rainforest, a rise in forest fires corresponding with a historic drought across the region has sparked worries among conservationists.

The cumulative extent of burned area in the Amazon over the previous twelve months has reached the highest level since 2018. These burned areas are historically excluded from the deforestation tally.

A graph that shows burn scars detected by DETER in the Brazilian Amazon since July 2017
Monthly and 12-month- moving average data for burn scar alert data for Legal Amazonia from INPE’s DETER system.
A graph that shows deforestations detected by DETER in the cerrado since May 2018 per square kilometer
Monthly and 12-month- moving average data for deforestation alert data for the cerrado from INPE’s DETER system.

In other concerning news for environmentalists, DETER is also detecting rising deforestation in the cerrado, a dry woody savanna that borders the Amazon and is a source of rivers important to farms, ranches, and urban areas in southern South America.

Deforestation in the cerrado has reached the highest level since 2018, though it is still substantially below where it stood for most of the 2000s.

Scientists have warned that the combination of deforestation and the effects of climate change could lead to destabilization of the Amazon rainforest, prompting a vast die-off of trees across the southern and eastern parts of the region.

Such a development would affect rainfall patterns at a continental scale and trigger a widespread decline of species dependent on the rainforest ecosystem.

A bar graph that shows the annual deforestation in the cerrado since 2001 per square kilometer, according to INPE1
Annual deforestation in the cerrado since 2001, according to INPE’s PRODES system (sq km)

This article was originally published by Mongabay.

Header image: River in the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Article Details

July 2, 2024 5:00 AM
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