At the current rate of degradation, the largest rainforest on the planet may only be around for another two centuries.
Carajás National Forest, Pará, Brazil. Flavio Forner/XIBÉ
When applying a model for deforestation based on historic rates and ineffective protected areas, a British researcher came to a terrifying conclusion: the largest rainforest in world may only exist for little more than two more centuries. After this period (245 years, to be exact if the current protected area system is not effectively protected), the classic image of the green carpet formed by the treetops as well as its immeasurable biodiversity will be just a memory recorded in videos and photos. The forest, which was formed over millions of years, will disappear.
As if that is not enough, there is another disturbing finding: well before it’s demise, the Amazon Forest could stop providing the ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and storage to mitigate climate change, the supply of clean water, erosion control and others that are essential for life in the region and beyond. But how did the geographer Mark Mulligan, Reader in Geography at King’s College London, in England, reach these conclusions?
Mark, who has worked in Latin America since the early 1990s, is one of the creators of an information system and ecosystem services mapping tool named Co$ting Nature, which has an inbuilt land use change model, QUICKLUC 2.0 [methods explained here. The web tool brings extensive spatial data on biophysical and socioeconomic context, biodiversity, ecosystem services, current pressure and future threat. It performs a kind of natural capital accounting and calculates the conservation priority of each 1km pixel on a global or regional scale, Mark explains. Through science and technology, ecosystem services are analyzed, their beneficiaries are identified and impacts of their continued provision is assessed.
The tool, which is a valuable technical resource used by researchers in more than 1000 organisations across 141 countries, and has already been applied at the local and national scale in many countries. The program can aggregate and interpret large volumes of data generated by different scientists in recent years around the world using so-called “big-data” analytical techniques of spatial modelling and geographical information systems.