Deforestation is a major threat to biodiversity worldwide. The appetite of nearly 8 billion people for forest products—including wood, paper products, and cleared land—has reduced forested land worldwide by nearly 90 since the time before the Industrial Revolution, and the process is ongoing.
While forests aren’t the major source of oxygen in the world (That’s oceans! Protect our seas!), they do play an absolutely massive part in sequestering atmospheric pollution, particularly carbon emissions.
In 2016, an app was launched, called the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) system. Developed by a research team at the University of Maryland, GLAD constantly reviews satellite images of forested areas of the planet available through the same satellites that provide for Google Earth and Apple Maps. It compares images of the same locations, looking for forest loss. Able to check any given forest once every eight days, the app sends alerts out about what it has found.
Cameroon and the Central African Republic, two counties in central sub-Saharan Africa, have both been putting the technology of GLAD to work to great effect. According to a study by Fanny Moffette at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, those two countries have slowed deforestation by 18 percent in the two years since they began using the app. Their governments, along with environmental watchdog groups on the ground, monitor the app and use it to evaluate conservation responses.
Moffette’s team also researched deforestation in South America and the Caribbean, which the app also covers, but they saw little decrease in deforestation in either region, where there is little engagement (and very little government engagement) with the GLAD app.
The team at GLAD hopes to see more engagement, and more results, from their app in the future as its functions are refined.