EarthLabs > Climate and the Carbon Cycle: Unit Overview > Lab 4: Deforestation and the Carbon Cycle > 4B: Global Forest Watch

Deforestation and the Carbon Cycle

Part B: Global Forest Watch

According to the Scientific American, deforestation from logging, agricultural production and other economic activities adds more CO2 to the atmosphere than the sum total of all the world's cars and trucks combined. Slowing the rate of deforestation thus becomes a valuable tool in slowing the rate of climate change.

In this Lab, you have the opportunity to use The Global Forest Watch tool to investigate changes in forest cover based on a research question of your own interest. An important part of your research will be to gather information from reliable sources on the Internet on why these changes in forest cover are happening. As you learned in Lab 4A, deforestation is caused by many complex economic, environmental, social and geopolitical variables.

Finding viable solutions to deforestation requires understanding how all of these variables are interconnected. For example, on-going deforestation in Haiti is perhaps one of the most complex examples of deforestation and environmental degradation. If you look at the picture on the right, you will see that Haiti(on the left) is far more deforested than its neighbor The Dominican Republic (on the right). NOTE: If you are interested in the Haiti deforestation case study, there are several resources included in the Extensions section at the bottom of this page.

World Resources Institute, Google, scientists and other partners have collaborated to produce "Global Forest Watch, " a mapping application that unites satellite technology, open data, and crowd sourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests and deforestation. Governments, organizations, scientists and citizens can all use this mapping tool to access and generate data related to changes in forest cover.

  1. Watch this short Global Forest Watch video to introduce this powerful new tool. You will use this tool in a research task that is described below.

  2. RESEARCH TASK: You will use Global Forest Watch to generate an original research question about changes in forest cover. You will use data, information, patterns and maps from Global Forest Watch and background Internet research to create a product that informs the public about your research question and findings. You can use Global Forest Watch to examine data and patterns from different spatial scales - global, hemisphere, by country, state, regional, local. For example, if you are interested in changes in Texas forest cover, you can drill down to that spatial level.

  3. Open and explore how the Global Forest Watch mapping tool works and the type of data the tool can generate by doing the following:
    • Watch the Overview video and the Tutorial video from the "HOW TO" tab in the top menu.
    • Spend time pulling down menu tabs, clicking on icons, zooming in and out!
    • Explore forest data at different spatial scales.
    • Share out all that you have discovered with the rest of the class.
  4. Generate a research question. Remember that this tool keeps track of forests at different spatial scales so your research question could be based on data that is global, hemispheric, by country, state, regional or local.
  5. Use the Global Forest Change interactive to gather data and images that allow you to answer your research question.
  6. Use the statistical analysis tools to generate graphs and tables.
  7. Use the Internet to research the causes of the changes in forest cover in your research area. Causes of changes in forest cover can be economic, environmental, social, and/or geopolitical and often can be varied, interconnected and complex.
  8. Prepare and present your product. Think about what your presentation product will look like and and any technology you might use to create this product.
  9. Before completing final presentations, you may wish to critique each other's presentation products and offer feedback. Share your products with the class and perhaps a wider audience.

Optional Extensions

  • Reading: In this CNN opinion article Where the Trees Are Disappearing author Darin Zarin describes the Global Forest Watch tool and why this tool is so important.
  • Be a citizen scientist! Perhaps phenomena such as wildfires, drought or insect invasions have impacted forest cover in your neighborhood! If you think you have an interesting story to tell about forest changes in your local area, write the story and submit it to Global Forest Watch according to their specifications.
  • Video: Global Forest Watch is a complicated tool that merges science and technology. If you are interested is how this tool was constructed, watch this 54 minute video Mapping Global Forest Change: Discussion and Demonstration.

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