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Posted on May 5th, 2015

Our Changing Landscape – Deforestation in Pará, Brazil, Part II

In this monthly feature, we span the globe to examine Our Changing Landscape with time series of medium resolution RapidEye satellite imagery. The RapidEye archive dates back to late 2008 and already contains more than 5 billion square kilometers of data. This month, we take another look at deforestation in Brazil as a follow up to our August 2012 piece.

The RapidEye Constellation

RapidEye is a constellation of five 5-meter medium resolution satellites each offering five spectral bands of information. The RapidEye constellation offers daily revisits to every location on the planet with a huge footprint that is 77-km wide. The data is priced competitively with a starting cost of $1.28 per square kilometer for all five spectral bands – academics do receive discounts. RapidEye adds a fifth band, the red edge, to the ‘traditional’ multispectral set of blue, green, red and near-infrared (NIR). The additional spectral data in the red edge band allows users to extract more useful land ‘information’ than can be from traditional 4-band imagery sources. When RapidEye imagery is ordered as a Level 3A Orthorectified product, images from multiple dates are extremely well registered, making it the ideal data source for Our Changing Landscape.

Deforestation in Pará, Brazil, Part II

In the August 2012 edition of Our Changing Landscape, the focus was on the causes of deforestation in Brazil. In this follow up piece, we feature a new layer stack of 5-meter RapidEye imagery collected over Pará, Brazil to show the continued deforestation in this Brazilian state. But first, here is a series of statistics on deforestation in the Amazonian forests as a whole:

Click on the image above to see an animation of 5-meter natural color RapidEye imagery collected over rural Pará, Brazil on August 20, 2009, June 17, 2011, July 24, 2012 and August 8, 2014. The two images used in our original 2012 animation have been incorporated here; further, the area covered in the previews has been expanded and updated images added in. What you will see in this RapidEye layer stack are periods of significant deforestation in parts of the forest while other areas remain fallow and are actually reforested. This is a common pattern seen in deforestation whereby subsistence practices combined with commercial clear cuts rotate around a region, taking advantage of new and regrown plots of timber as well as “recharged” agricultural lands. (Images Courtesy: RapidEye)
  • Since 1970, more than 760,000 square kilometers (sq km) of Amazonian rainforest have been cleared. That is about 19% of the total area of these forests.
  • From 1960 to 1999, there was an average of 5.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released by deforestation activities. Since that time, the running average has continued to fall with some 3.2 billion tons of CO2 released in 2009.
  • From 1988 to 2004, the yearly rate of deforestation in the Amazon exceeded 15,000 sq km on average; yet since that time, the rate of deforestation has declined rapidly with most years averaging 5,000 to 6,000 sq km of clearing per year.
  • About one-third of the remaining rainforests in the world are found in Brazil with some 56,000+ species of plants, 1700+ birds, 695 amphibians, 651 reptiles and 578 mammals described in the forests as of mid-2014.
  • Deforestation is only half of the story when it comes to forest health in the Amazon as the Woods Hole Research Center and the Carnegie Institute suggest that the amount of degraded forest cover is roughly equivalent to the area cleared. Degraded forests have less biodiversity and are more susceptible to fires so this is a major issue that is often not discussed in mainstream media.
  • 2013 saw the first increase in Brazilian deforestation in eight years with rates up 29%. The trend appears to have continued in 2014 with a 190% increase in deforestation during August and September as compared to the same period in 2013. It has been suggested that the increased rates of deforestation are the result of shifting governmental priorities; as well as more sophisticated farmers and loggers who have learned that current Brazilian satellite technology only detects clear cuts larger than 25 hectares.
  • Before you pivot to the updated animation showing deforestation in Pará, let’s end the written portion of this article on a positive note. Research suggests the dramatic decline in deforestation since 2004 can be attributed (at least in part) to the significant pressure brought on government and commercial forces by local civil society and non-government organizations (NGOs). This pressure for positive environmental change has not weakened so let’s hope the increased rates of deforestation in 2013 and 2014 are just temporary blips on the radar.

If you would like to find out more about using RapidEye for your academic studies, engineering projects or any landscape analysis, let us know at or (303) 993-3863.

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