Imazon's SAD bulletin on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for June 2018. In June 2018, deforestation was 1169 square kilometers, an increase of 108 percent compared with June 2017, when deforestation totaled 537 square kilometers. Graphic: Imazon

By Stefania Costa
20 July 2018

In June 2018, SAD detected 1169 square kilometers of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. In this bulletin, the fraction of deforestation between 1 and 10 hectares was 4% of the total detected (52 square kilometers). Considering only the alerts from 10 hectares, there was an increase of 108% compared to June 2017, when deforestation totaled 537 square kilometers. In June 2018, deforestation occurred in Amazonas (31%), Pará (29%), Rondônia (22%), Mato Grosso (16%), Roraima (1%) and Acre (1%).

The degraded forests in the Amazon rainforest totaled 40 square kilometers in June 2018. In June 2017, the detected forest degradation totaled 8 square kilometers. In June 2018, degradation was detected in the states of Pará (90%) and Mato Grosso (10%).

In June 2018, the majority (62%) of deforestation occurred in private areas or under various stages of ownership. The remaining deforestation was registered in Conservation Units (22%), Land Reform Settlements (13%) and Indigenous Lands (3%). [Translation by Google. –Des]

Boletim do desmatamento da Amazônia Legal (junho 2018) SAD

A forest fire in Temagami, Ontario, on 8 July 2018. Five waterbombers were aiding hard-pressed ground crews in their struggle to contain fires in northeastern Ontario, which has prompted the evacuation of more than 50 homes that can only be accessed by boat. Photo: @OPP_NER / Twitter

KILLARNEY, Ontario, 22 July 2018 (The Canadian Press) – Crews are continuing to battle dozens of forest fires in northeastern Ontario, after the biggest of the blazes more than doubled in size over the course of a day.

The province’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said in a release that as of Saturday night 64 fires were burning in the region, with 29 of them out of control.

The Ministry said the largest fire in the province’s northeast — known as Parry Sound 33 — had more than doubled in size during the past 24 hours to over 48 square kilometres.

Five waterbombers were aiding hard-pressed ground crews in their struggle to contain the fire, which has prompted the evacuation of more than 50 homes that can only be accessed by boat.

Evacuation orders have been issued for the Key Harbour and Killarney areas, as well as an area from the western and northern borders of the French River Provincial Park, east to Highway 69 — a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway — and south to the Key River.

Firefighters and equipment have poured in from across Canada, the United States, and Mexico to help the Ontario-based crews.

But there’s been little help from Mother Nature, with hot, dry conditions combined with lightning strikes and blustery winds fuelling — and often igniting — the flames.

“We’ve had a lot of smoke,” said Renee Germain who lives in Warren, Ont., located between Sudbury and North Bay. Though she’s not in the evacuation zone, she’s offering her property as a refuge for those with horses and livestock. […]

“Everything is very, very dry. We haven’t had much rain at all,” she said. “We have new fires that are starting every single day.” [more]

Fire crews continue battling dozens of fires in northeastern Ontario

A hybrid fin/blue whale poached by Icelandic company Kristjan Loftsson’s Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company involved in fin whaling. Photo: Hard to Port

WASHINGTON, 20 July 2018 (IFAW) – Conservationists are calling for an immediate end to commercial whaling in Iceland after genetic testing revealed a whale harpooned in Icelandic waters earlier this month was a rare blue/fin whale hybrid.

There was international outcry after it was revealed that on July 7, whalers working for Kristjan Loftsson’s Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company involved in fin whaling, had killed a whale which photographic evidence strongly suggested was either a blue whale or a rare blue/fin whale hybrid.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which opposes all commercial whaling due to its inherent cruelty, called on Mr Loftsson to end his whaling operations immediately but the killing of fin whales has continued.  

Experts at Iceland’s Marine Research Institute, which undertook genetic analysis to determine the species, have now confirmed it was indeed a blue/fin whale hybrid, the offspring of a female blue whale and a male fin whale. Blue whales, the largest whale species on the planet, have been protected under international law since 1966 as populations have been decimated by commercial whaling. While such hybrids have previously been recorded by scientists, they are rare and also protected by international conventions. The trading of blue/fin hybrid whales or any of their parts is illegal.

Sigursteinn Masson, IFAW’s Icelandic Representative, said: “The killing of a blue/fin whale hybrid demonstrates the difficulty for whalers at sea to identify which species they are pursuing. The result is that a rare and protected species has suffered as collateral damage from a cruel, unnecessary and increasingly unpopular hunt.

“Now that the evidence has been confirmed, we once again call for an immediate and permanent end to this whaling to prevent further harm to these endangered species which not only play a crucial role within the marine ecosystem, but also embody such a rich national and cultural heritage as well.”

Mr Loftsson, CEO of Hvalur hf, announced his intention to resume killing endangered fin whales, the second largest whale species, earlier this year after a three-year hiatus. The hunt began last month with a quota of 238 whales. Loftsson’s company last killed 155 fin whales in 2015, chiefly for the Japanese market. There had been no fin whaling in Iceland since this time, after Loftsson cited difficulties in trading the meat with Japan.

Minke whaling has also been taking place in Iceland this summer with a self-allocated annual kill quota of 269 minke whales, though only a fraction of the quota is usually taken. A total of 17 minke whales were harpooned during last summer’s whaling season, compared to 46 in 2016. While fin whale meat has not traditionally been eaten by Icelanders, minke whale meat is sold within the country, though the majority of it is eaten by curious tourists.

There is also little appetite for whale meat among Icelanders with recent Gallup polling commissioned by IFAW showing only 1% of Icelanders claim to eat whale meat regularly and 81% have never eaten it. Polling also revealed that Icelandic support for fin whaling has significantly reduced, with 35.4% now declaring they are in favour of fin whaling, compared to 42% in 2016. Just four years ago, similar polling found 56.9% in favour of fin whaling, around 20% higher.*

In conjunction with Icelandic whale watching coalition Icewhale, IFAW works to educate tourists about the realities of whaling and whale meat through its ‘Meet Us Don’t Eat Us’ campaign. The percentage of tourists who claimed to have tasted whale meat in Iceland was 40% according to research carried out in 2009. Since the launch of Meet Us Don’t Eat Us in 2011 this figure has been drastically reduced, with IFAW surveys revealing 11.4% of tourists in Iceland had sampled whale meat in 2017.

Masson added: “IFAW has worked alongside Icelanders for many years to promote responsible whale watching, rather than whale killing. This is better for whales, Iceland’s tourism industry and its international reputation.”

Whale watching is one of the top tourist attractions in Iceland, generating around £20 million annually. More than 350,000 people go whale watching each year in Iceland, proving that whales are worth far more to the Icelandic economy alive than dead.

More than half of restaurants in downtown Reykjavik have signed up to be ‘Whale Friendly’ with a pledge not to serve whale meat, and less than 10% of restaurants in this area have whale meat on their menus.

To support IFAW’s efforts to protect whales in Iceland or find out more about Meet Us Don’t Eat Us visit www.ifaw.is.

Renewed calls to end commercial whaling as genetic testing confirms whale harpooned in Iceland was rare hybrid

For a week in July 2018, an iceberg as tall as the Statue of Liberty filled the villagers of Innaarsuit, Greenland, with existential dread. Photo: Magnus Kristensen / Ritzau Scanpix / Reuters

By Carolyn Kormann
20 July 2018

(The New Yorker) – For a week, an iceberg as colossal as it is fragile held everyone in suspense. It arrived like a gargantuan beast that you hope won’t notice you, at the fishing village of Innaarsuit, Greenland, about five hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle. The iceberg posed a mortal threat to the village population of about a hundred and seventy people. Standing three hundred feet tall (the height of the Statue of Liberty) and weighing an estimated ten million metric tons (equal to thirty Empire State buildings), it’s riven with cracks and holes. If a big enough part of it sloughed off, in a process known as “calving,” it would cause a tsunami, immediately destroying the little settlement on whose shore it rested. “You don’t want to be anywhere near the water when it’s happening,” a glaciologist who does research in Greenland said. “It’s just incredibly violent.” People began to evacuate.

Innaarsuit residents are a hardy bunch, living in the sort of climatic extremes that temperate zoners might call otherwordly. For much of the summer, the sun is always up. This year, it won’t set again until in early August. The temperature on Friday was thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit—about as warm as it ever gets—and in the darkness of February and March, the average remains below zero. There are no trees. People hunt narwhals (polar unicorns), whales, and seals. The single road dead-ends at a cemetery. Boat captains (the only people who can get you off the island, apart from helicopter pilots) are constantly navigating an endless parade of baby icebergs, set loose from their mothers, drifting with the current past the village, often close enough to touch. They tend to be the size of a beach ball, a dinghy, a shack. The most recent visitor is different, obviously. “This iceberg is the biggest we have seen,” a village council member named Susanne K. Eliassen said. Karl Petersen, the village council chair, called on the press, asking the world for assistance if the berg were to calve. For the crowd watching online, it was like Jaws. We hoped desperately that the great white thing would just continue on its way.

Big icebergs are nothing new, but they usually remain far offshore. Ocean currents and wind push the icebergs along, sometimes five or more miles a day. In this case, the berg got stuck in the shallow waters of the bay. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist from the University of California, Irvine, said that it probably originated from one of the nearby glaciers that flow down the fjords along Greenland’s west coast. Those glaciers have long been notable for pushing a lot of icebergs out into the sea. But nowadays they are in retreat—more ice is more rapidly breaking from the glacier’s face than snow is accumulating on its back.With climate change, what happened in Innaarsuit, Rignot said, is expected to occur more frequently. Joshua Willis, a glaciologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, put it in simple terms: “As things continue to warm up, more ice is gonna come off and float around.” Drought-stricken South Africa wants to tow one such berg to Cape Town, to prevent the country’s taps from running dry. […]

Back in Innaarsuit, the great white iceberg remained mostly intact and, with some help from a new-moon tide and benevolent winds, continued drifting north. By Wednesday, everybody felt safe enough to go home. The store opened, the fishermen got back in their boats and resumed catching green halibut. It’s nice when a story about an iceberg has a happy ending, at least for now. [more]

Climate Change and the Giant Iceberg Off Greenland’s Shore

9 July 2018 (NYU) – A team of scientists has captured on video a four-mile iceberg breaking away from a glacier in eastern Greenland, an event that points to one of the forces behind global sea-level rise.

The resulting iceberg, broken off from Greenland’s Helheim Glacier, would stretch from lower Manhattan up to Midtown in New York City.

“Global sea-level rise is both undeniable and consequential,” observes David Holland, a professor at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematics and NYU Abu Dhabi, who led the research team. “By capturing how it unfolds, we can see, first-hand, its breath-taking significance.”

The video shows sea level rising as the ice from the glacier enters the ocean.

This phenomenon, also known as calving (the breaking off of large blocks of ice from a glacier), may also be instructive to scientists and policy makers.

“Knowing how and in what ways icebergs calve is important for simulations because they ultimately determine global sea-level rise,” adds Denise Holland, the logistics coordinator for NYU’s Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and NYU Abu Dhabi’s Center for Global Sea Level Change, who filmed the calving event. “The better we understand what’s going on means we can create more accurate simulations to help predict and plan for climate change.”

Screenshot of a video showing a massive iceberg calving event captured at Helheim Glacier in Greenland on 22 June 2018, at 11:30 pm. The event occurred over approximately 30 minutes. Photo: Denise Holland / New York University

The calving event captured on video began on 22 June 2018 at 11:30 p.m. local time and took place over approximately 30 minutes (the video has condensed the time of this occurrence to approximately 90 seconds).

The video depicts a tabular, or wide and flat, iceberg calve off and move away from the glacier. As it does so, thin and tall icebergs—also known as pinnacle bergs—calve off and flip over. The camera angle then shifts to show movement further down the fjord, where one tabular iceberg crashes into a second, causing the first to split into two and flip over.

“The range of these different iceberg formation styles helps us build better computer models for simulating and modeling iceberg calving,” explains Denise Holland.

A 2017 estimate suggested that a collapse of the entire the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet would result in a 10-foot-rise in sea level—enough to overwhelm coastal areas around the globe, including New York City.

An iceberg that broke off from Greenland’s Helheim Glacier on 22 June 2018 would stretch from lower Manhattan up to Midtown in New York City, as illustrated here. Credit: Google Earth. Graphic: Denise Holland

So far, the Thwaites Glacier, a part of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet that has already drained a mass of water that is roughly the size of Great Britain or the state of Florida, has accounted for approximately 4 percent of global sea-level rise —an amount that has doubled since the mid-1990s.

Contact

James Devitt, (212) 998-6808

Scientists Capture Breaking of Glacier in Greenland

Residents clear debris in a village damaged by flash flooding in Vietnam's Yen Bai province on Saturday, 21 July 2018. Photo: Anh Tuan / AFP / Getty Images

By Sandi Sidhu and Susannah Cullinane
22 July 2018

(CNN) – Extreme weather is striking parts of Asia with deadly flash-flooding in Vietnam, a tropical storm prompting evacuations and disrupting travel in China and an ongoing heat wave in Japan.

In Vietnam, 21 people have died and more people are missing after Tropical Depression Son Tinh triggered flash floods and landslides, submerging villages in the northern provinces of Thanh Hoa and Yen Bai, state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported Sunday.

Local government groups are "searching for missing ones, arranging temporary accommodation for households who have lost their homes, and actively evacuating and relocating people from dangerous areas," VNA said.

The government is also mobilizing forces to fix infrastructure, including homes, heath care centers, hospitals and schools. […]

    CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said forecast rainfall estimates could approach 500 mm (nearly 20 inches) across northern Vietnam and southern China over the next few days.

    Meantime, Tropical Storm Ampil is bearing down on eastern China -- impacting the area from Shanghai to Jiangsu Province.

    More than 190,000 people have been evacuated to "safer" places in Shanghai as Ampil makes landfall, bringing with it heavy rain and strong winds, Chinese state media Xinhua reported on Sunday. […]

    Rainfall amounts of 100-200 mm (4-8 inches) are forecast; with localized falls of up to 300 mm (12 inches). […]

    Further south, the Philippines' monsoon season has been exacerbated by Son Tinh, Ampil, and now Tropical Depression 13W (known locally as "Josie").

    Severe weather has caused two deaths and 728,000 people to be evacuated from their homes, with 585 villages affected by heavy rain, according to state news agency Philippines News Agency (PNA). […]

    Flooding caused by the tropical depression has caused 6 to 7 inches (15-17 cm) of flooding in metro Manila but the storm is expected to leave the Philippines on Monday, the news agency reports.

    Another tropical depression is swirling to the country's east.

    Meantime, much of central and southern Japan is continuing to swelter in excessive heat.

    Van Dam says nearly 110 million of Japan's 128 million people have been impacted by the heat wave over the past two weeks, with roughly 90% of the country experiencing extreme heat.

    While temperatures remain in the mid-30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit), the heat index -- which factors in relative humidity -- has soared into the lower and middle 40s.

    "Sweating is only as good as your body's ability to evaporate that sweat off of the skin. Heat indices in the mid 40s are making it nearly impossible for the body's response to properly take effect," he says.

    As of Wednesday, 13 deaths had been linked to the heat wave, following flooding that killed at least 210 in Japan earlier this month. [more]

    Storms, landslides and heat hit Asia

    Top sources of electricity in the U.S. The share of American electricity generated in coal-fired power plants has fallen since 2000  while natural gas and renewable energy sources other than hydropower have gained ground and nuclear power has remained flat. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. Graphic: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND

    By Anthony J. Marchese and Dan Zimmerle
    2 July 2018

    (The Conversation) – Natural gas is displacing coal, which could help fight climate change because burning it produces fewer carbon emissions. But producing and transporting natural gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas that also contributes to climate change. How big is the methane problem?

    For the past five years, our research teams at Colorado State University have made thousands of methane emissions measurements at more than 700 separate facilities in the production, gathering, processing, transmission and storage segments of the natural gas supply chain.

    This experience has given us a unique perspective regarding the major sources of methane emissions from natural gas and the challenges the industry faces in terms of detecting and reducing, if not eliminating, them.

    Our work, along with numerous other research projects, was recently folded into a new study published in the journal Science. This comprehensive snapshot suggests that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are much higher than current EPA estimates.

    One way to quantify the magnitude of the methane leakage is to divide the amount of methane emitted each year by the total amount of methane pumped out of the ground each year from natural gas and oil wells. The EPA currently estimates this methane leak rate to be 1.4 percent. That is, for every cubic foot of natural gas drawn from underground reservoirs, 1.4 percent of it is lost into the atmosphere.

    This study synthesized the results from a five-year series of 16 studies coordinated by environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions and 50 natural gas companies.

    The effort brought together scholars based at universities, think tanks and the industry itself to make the most accurate estimate possible of the total amount of methane emitted from all U.S. oil and gas operations. It integrated data from a multitude of recent studies with measurements made on the ground and from the air.

    All told, based on the results of our new study, the U.S. oil and gas industry is leaking 13 million metric tons of methane each year, which means the methane leak rate is 2.3 percent. This 60 percent difference between our new estimate and the EPA’s old one can have profound climate consequences.

    Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is released.

    An earlier EDF study showed that a methane leak rate of greater than 3 percent would result in no immediate climate benefits from retiring coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas power plants.

    That means even with a 2.3 percent leakage rate, the growing share of U.S. electricity powered by natural gas is doing something to slow the pace of climate change. However, these climate benefits could be far greater.

    Also, at a methane leakage rate of 2.3 percent, many other uses of natural gas besides generating electricity are conclusively detrimental for the climate. For example, EDF found that replacing the diesel used in most trucks or the gasoline consumed by most cars with natural gas would require a leakage rate of less than 1.4 percent before there would be any immediate climate benefit.

    What’s more, some scientists believe that the leakage rate could be even higher than our estimate. [more]

    The U.S. natural gas industry is leaking way more methane than previously thought. Here’s why that matters


    ABSTRACT: Methane emissions from the U.S. oil and natural gas supply chain were estimated using ground-based, facility-scale measurements and validated with aircraft observations in areas accounting for ~30% of U.S. gas production. When scaled up nationally, our facility-based estimate of 2015 supply chain emissions is 13 ± 2 Tg/y, equivalent to 2.3% of gross U.S. gas production. This value is ~60% higher than the U.S. EPA inventory estimate, likely because existing inventory methods miss emissions released during abnormal operating conditions. Methane emissions of this magnitude, per unit of natural gas consumed, produce radiative forcing over a 20-year time horizon comparable to the CO2 from natural gas combustion. Significant emission reductions are feasible through rapid detection of the root causes of high emissions and deployment of less failure-prone systems.

    Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain

    A girl drinks from a can of soda on her way out of a church in San Juan Chamula. In San Juan Chamula, bottled soda anchors religious ceremonies cherished by the city’s indigenous Tzotzil population. Many Tzotzil believe carbonated soda has the power to heal the sick. Inside the town’s whitewashed church, tourists step gingerly across carpets of fresh pine needles as copal incense and smoke from hundreds of candles fill the air. But the main draw here for tourists is to watch the faithful, who pray over bottles of Coke or Pepsi, and also over live chickens, some sacrificed on the spot. Photo: Adriana Zehbrauskas / The New York Times

    By Oscar Lopez and Andrew Jacobs
    14 July 2018

    SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (The New York Times) – Maria del Carmen Abadía lives in one of Mexico’s rainiest regions, but she has running water only once every two days. When it does trickle from her tap, the water is so heavily chlorinated, she said, it’s undrinkable.

    Potable water is increasingly scarce in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a picturesque mountain town in the southeastern state of Chiapas where some neighborhoods have running water just a few times a week, and many households are forced to buy extra water from tanker trucks.

    So, many residents drink Coca-Cola, which is produced by a local bottling plant, can be easier to find than bottled water and is almost as cheap.

    In a country that is among the world’s top consumers of sugary drinks, Chiapas is a champion: Residents of San Cristóbal and the lush highlands that envelop the city drink on average more than two liters, or more than half a gallon, of soda a day.

    The effect on public health has been devastating. The mortality rate from diabetes in Chiapas increased 30 percent between 2013 and 2016, and the disease is now the second-leading cause of death in the state after heart disease, claiming more than 3,000 lives every year.

    “Soft drinks have always been more available than water,” said Ms. Abadía, 35, a security guard who, like her parents, has struggled with obesity and diabetes.

    Vicente Vaqueiros, 33, a doctor at the clinic in San Juan Chamula, a nearby farming town, said health care workers were struggling to deal with the surge in diabetes.

    “When I was a kid and used to come here, Chamula was isolated and didn’t have access to processed food,” he said. “Now, you see the kids drinking Coke and not water. Right now, diabetes is hitting the adults, but it’s going to be the kids next. It’s going to overwhelm us.”

    Buffeted by the dual crises of the diabetes epidemic and the chronic water shortage, residents of San Cristóbal have identified what they believe is the singular culprit: the hulking Coca-Cola factory on the edge of town.

    The plant has permits to extract more than 300,000 gallons of water a day as part of a decades-old deal with the federal government that critics say is overly favorable to the plant’s owners.

    Public ire has been boiling over. In April 2017, masked protesters marched on the factory holding crosses that read “Coca-Cola kills us” and demanding that the government shut the plant down.

    “When you see that institutions aren’t providing something as basic as water and sanitation, but you have this company with secure access to one of the best water sources, of course it gives you a shock,” said Fermin Reygadas, the director of Cántaro Azul, an organization that provides clean water to rural communities.

    Coca-Cola executives and some outside experts say the company has been unfairly maligned for the water shortages. They blame rapid urbanization, poor planning and a lack of government investment that has allowed the city’s infrastructure to crumble.

    Climate change, scientists say, has also played a role in the failure of artesian wells that sustained San Cristóbal for generations.

    “It doesn’t rain like it used to,” said Jesús Carmona, a biochemist at the local Ecosur scientific research center, which is affiliated with the Mexican government. “Almost every day, day and night, it used to rain.” [more]

    In Town With Little Water, Coca-Cola Is Everywhere. So Is Diabetes.

    Spatial pattern and magnitude of net forest loss in Southeast Asia during the early twenty-first century. Graphic: Zeng, et al., 2018 / Nature Geoscience

    By John Sullivan
    3 July 2018

    (Princeton University) – Researchers using satellite imaging have found much greater than expected deforestation since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia, a critically important world ecosystem. The findings are important because they raise questions about key assumptions made in projections of global climate change as well as concerns about environmental conditions in Southeast Asia in the future.

    Zhenzhong Zeng, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and the lead author of an article describing the findings in Nature Geoscience, said the researchers used a combination of satellite data and computational algorithms to reach their conclusions. The report shows a loss of 29.3 million hectares of forest (roughly 113,000 square miles or about twice the size of New York State) between 2000 and 2014. Zeng said that represents 57 percent more loss than current estimations of deforestation made by the International Panel on Climate Change. He said most of the forest has been cleared for crops.

    Because forests absorb atmospheric carbon, and burning forests contribute carbon to the atmosphere, loss of forests could be devastating. An accurate estimation of forest cover also is critical for assessments of climate change. Zeng also said transformation of mountainous regions from old forest to cropland can have widespread environmental impacts from soil retention to water quality in the region.

    Eric Wood, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a member of the research team, said the results were troubling in that farmers are carving new agricultural frontiers from the highland forests of mainland Southeast Asia. “These forests are an important source for sequestering carbon as well as critical water sources for adjacent lowlands,” he said.

    II addition to Wood and Zeng, researchers involved in the project included: Lyndon Estes, of Clark University; Alan Ziegler, of the National University of Singapore; Anping Chen, of Purdue University; Timothy Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Fangyuan Hua, of the University of Cambridge; Kaiyu Guan, of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign; and Attachai Jintrawet, of Chiang Mai University. Support for the project was provided in part by Lamsam-Thailand Sustain Development.

    Southeast Asian forest loss much greater than expected, with negative implications for climate


    Cropland expansion along topographical frontiers in the twenty-first century in Nan province, Thailand. Graphic: Zeng, et al., 2018 / Nature Geoscience

    ABSTRACT: Southeast Asia is a hotspot of tropical deforestation for agriculture. Most of the deforestation is thought to occur in lowland forests, whereas the region’s mountainous highlands undergo very limited deforestation. However, regional reports of cropland expansion in some highland areas suggest that this assumption is inaccurate. Here we investigate patterns of forest change and cropland expansion in the region for the twenty-first century, based on multiple streams of state-of-the-art satellite imagery. We find large increases in cultivated areas that have not been documented or projected. Many of these cultivated areas have evolved from forests that vary in health and status, including primary and protected forests, or from recovering lands that were on a trajectory to become secondary forests. These areas all have different biophysical features than croplands. We estimate that an area of 82 billion m2 has been developed into croplands in the Southeast Asian highlands. Some portion of this land-use change is probably attributable to agricultural intensification on formerly swidden agriculture lands; however, a substantial proportion is from new forest loss. Our findings are in marked contrast with projections of land-cover trends that currently inform the prediction of future climate change, terrestrial carbon storage, biomass, biodiversity, and land degradation.

    Highland cropland expansion and forest loss in Southeast Asia in the twenty-first century

     

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