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Africa: Satellite Alerts Seen Helping Fight Deforestation in Africa

Near real-time data pinpointing tree losses is helping African countries tackle deforestation, finds study

A system using satellite data to send free alerts when trees are destroyed has been linked to a significant drop in forest losses in Africa, researchers and academics said on Monday.

Deforestation dropped by an average of 18% across nine central African countries after the alerts were introduced, found a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“This is really a small revolution,” said study lead Fanny Moffette, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Now that we know subscribers of alerts can have an effect on deforestation, there’s potential ways in which our work can improve the training they receive and support their efforts,” she added in a statement.

Trees absorb about a third of greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide, but tropical rainforests disappeared at a rate of one football pitch every six seconds in 2019, according to data published by Global Forest Watch.

The study looked at whether the alert system – launched by the Global Forest Watch monitoring project in 2016 – was affecting tree losses in 22 tropical countries in South America, Africa and Asia.

It draws on satellite images updated every eight days, and uses artificial intelligence to identify where trees are vanishing by comparing pictures. It then warns subscribers covering the area so they can investigate and take action.

Organisations signed up to the alerts include governments, wildlife officials and park authorities, as well as NGOs and local forest protectors.

They have used the data to stage extra patrols in areas shown as losing trees and to catch illegal loggers in the act, said Katherine Shea at Global Forest Watch.