In a search for an area that I’m reading about in 1491, I started wandering around on Google Earth (free version), and discovered a pretty peculiar looking piece of real estate. I’m wondering if what I’m looking down on is what’s usually referred to as clear cut deforestation of the jungles of Brazil. It’s at 9 degrees, 51’, 23.13" South, and 67 degrees, 05’ 39.68 West. What the hell are those patches? Are those areas where the forest is being/has been cut away? Geez, if so, that’s a pretty dramatic view of it. Or is it something else? xo, C.
Direct Link : 9 51’ 23.13" S, 67 05’ 39.68 W (In case anyone else wants to look.)
I zoomed out & noticed it’s in a place called Acrelândia. I then googled a bit & I’m 100% sure that’s deforestation. Those satellite images could be up to 10 years old though, it could’ve all grown back waiting to be cut again by now.
If you go to your Layers section and turn on Digital Globe Coverage you can see when some of the shots were taken. There are many many shots of these areas taken within the last 5 years.
Yes, it is rain forest deforestation. That is hardely the worse example of deforestation in Brazil. All along the southern extent of the rainforest you can see swaths of these clear cuts pushing their way into the interior.
If you really want to be distrubed by the deforestation extent, take a screenshot of the present GoogleEarth images. Wait for more recent photos to be available and compare. Now that is scary.
10 years to grow back? Try never! You can’t replace a rainforest if the area cut is too large. It would take 100’s of years for tropical areas to reach former glory, and even then it’s not certain the forest would recover with the same variety, unless the clear cut patches are small enough to be seeded by surrounding forest.
There are crucial interdependencies in tropical forestland that are completely destroyed by clearcuts - 1000’s of insects and other small animals that may only occur in one area and not another for various reasons. Many plant species evolve in conjunction with these animal forms, and rely on them. Check out the ant acacia for example: http://carbon.cudenver.edu/~gcronin/acacia.htm, or the Brazil nut, which not only requires a specific bee for pollination, but another orchid growing nearby to attract the bees as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_nut. When you obliterate the forest, the animals die - so even if you could replant everything that once grew there, the forest wouldn’t recover.
These types of interdependent relationships are much more prevalent in tropical woodlands. The loggers don’t do surveys to make sure they’re not completely obliterating undiscovered species and animal-plant or plant-plant interdependencies.
I can’t look at those aerial pictures - it’s too depressing.
While that’s the knee jerk reaction, I’m not sure it’s true. Forest grows back amazingly quickly - not in ten years, for the most part, but “Hundred of years” is almost certainly a remarkable exagerration in most cases. New England, which is now mostly dense forest and has been for decades, was almost entirely deforested just 100 years ago when it was mostly put to use as farmland. The forests that come back might have a difference balance of life than the old ones, but there’ll be life there.
Forests CAN be managed correctly and grown back.
That’s truly amazing.
Take a look at this section of similar activity:
That is just a little south-east of the OP’s link.
Now look at the same magnification level at the city of Rio de Janeiro (easy to find from the OP’s location, it’s a big bay just southwest of one of the bumps on the east coast)
You can’t zoom in too much in the forest, but go ahead and zoom in down to the city streets of Rio to get an idea of just how huge those swaths of forest are.
Just a couple of bands of the deforested area are larger than the entire suburbs of Rio.
I found a city in Brazil called Rio Crespo. If you fly there, and look from about 30 miles up, you can see that the entire view, which obviously used to be jungle, is now over 50% cleared. The view covers an area about the size of, say, six large counties in Illinois. Huge.
My Google view is not particularly clear. Are those little spots on the ends of roads to be taken as oil wells? And what the heck are those strange patches to the north east of Swan Hills?
Yeah, Google doesn’t have the greatest imagery for most of Canada. The little squares are oil, or in this case more likely natural gas wells.
Do you mean all the little irregular checkerboard patches? Those are the cutblocks I’m talking about. Or do you mean the huge brownish patches? Those are burnt areas, nature’s deforestation! The big one is from the Chisholm Fire in 2001.
Some more near Grande Prairie. If you look closely, you can see where the trees are starting to grow back, and in other places where there’s lots of regrowth, but the cutblock boundaries are still faintly visible.
(Sorry for the hijack)
We were talking about tropical rainforest; not all forests are the same.
“knee-jerk”? “not sure”? If you’re “not sure” it’s true, then why are you posting this opinion on GQ? Speaking from professional knowledge, it takes at least 30 years for a temperate forest “tree farm” to grow harvestable trees for the timber industry (not pulpwood). It usually takes much more than 100 years for a temperate forest to recover most of its structure on its own. I have been to many places where the woods have been clear-cut 100 years ago, and it’s pretty obvious to me that they aren’t old growth. http://www.reo.gov/library/reports/old_growth_definitions.htm
The “different balance of life” as you call it, is pretty important, especially in the tropical rainforest where the number of species and the diversity is exponentially beyond that of a temperate forest and much more interdependent. Some important plants have evolved to be dependent on various animals for survival (symbiotic relationships) and therefore will never grow back without their symbiotes. Scientists haven’t even catalogued a fraction of these relationships and so we would never know what we are missing.
Unlike temperate forests, most of the biomass in a tropical rainforest is held in living material and not the soil - there isn’t much chance for humus build up and the soils are generally very poor. Once the living biomass is taken or washed away when the forest is clearcut there’s really not much chance to put the genie back into the bottle and you end up with only the very nutrient poor soil. On top of all that, there are changes in climate to contend with, because the rainforest acts like a giant “sponge”, regulating evapotranspiration rates.
Please keep in mind I’m talking about large areas on the scale mentioned in the OP, not small patches surrounded by forests as typical of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture as practiced for many generations by indigenous groups.
Some good images and discussion of Rio Branco deforestation are here.
I’ve always wondered about tropical forests … if they can’t grow back because they need the leaf litter from the trees to grow in … how did they grow in the first place?
My own experience, from a number of years of living in the tropics, is that holes in the forest fill in pretty fast. 4,000 acre clearcuts are another question … I have, however, seen large clearcuts which were planted with trees a few years later, and they seem to have done well, so I’m a bit skeptical about the “cut it and it will never return” theory.