Amazon Rainforest

Amazon Rainforest - Tracked by NASA

Amazon Rainforest covers 2.124 million square miles, approximately 40% of South America

Deforested is the largest threat, approximately 13% of the Amazon Rainforest has been cleared.

The Amazon rainforest, alternatively, the Amazon jungle or Amazonia, is a moist broadleaf tropical rainforest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America. This basin encompasses 7,000,000 km2 (2,700,000 sq mi), of which 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi) are covered by the rainforest. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations and 3,344 formally acknowledged indigenous territories.

The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Bolivia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. 

Four nations have "Amazonas" as the name of one of their first-level administrative regions, and France uses the name "Guiana Amazonian Park" for its rainforest protected area. The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species.

More than 30 million people of 350 different ethnic groups live in the Amazon, which are subdivided into 9 different national political systems and 3,344 formally acknowledged indigenous territories. Indigenous peoples make up 9% of the total population with 60 of the groups remaining largely isolated.

Source: National Geographic

More than half of Earth’s rain forests have already been lost due to the human demand for wood and arable land. Rain forests that once grew over 14 percent of the land on Earth now cover only about 6 percent. And if current deforestation rates continue, these critical habitats could disappear from the planet completely within the next hundred years.

The reasons for plundering rain forests are mainly economic. Wealthy nations drive demand for tropical timber, and cash-strapped governments often grant logging concessions at a fraction of the land’s true value. “Homesteader” policies also encourage citizens to clear-cut forests for farms. Sustainable logging and harvesting rather than clear-cutting are among the strategies key to halting rain forest loss.



Campaigns that educate people about the destruction caused by rain forest timber and encourage purchasing of sustainable rain forest products could drive demand down enough to slow deforestation, and these practices in particular could save millions of acres of rain forest every year.

Source NASA: Kathryn Mersmann Posted on April 7, 2020 - NASA BLOG


Scientists have used satellites to track the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest for several decades — enough time to see some remarkable shifts in the pace and location of clearing.


During the 1990s and 2000s, the Brazilian rainforest was sometimes losing more than 20,000 square kilometers (8,000 square miles) per year, an area nearly the size of New Jersey. “It was open season on the rainforest back then,” said Michael Coe, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center. “Ranchers, soy farmers, land speculators, loggers, and miners were coming to the frontier and clearing virtually anything they wanted.”

In 2004, following several years of particularly rapid deforestation, public pressure turned the tide. That was the year the Brazilian government adopted an aggressive policy called the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm). The government created a large network of national and state parks, established protected territories for indigenous groups, strengthened environmental enforcement agencies, made it more difficult to export goods produced on illegally deforested land, and strengthened satellite monitoring systems.

Strengthened satellite-based forest monitoring systems played a key role in the turnaround, explained Raoni Rajão, an expert in environmental policy at Federal University of Minas Gerais. For several years, Brazilian government scientists had tracked deforestation with a system based on Landsat data called PRODES, but the data was mostly kept within government labs and agencies.

In 2002, with public outrage about deforestation growing, INPE began posting the full dataset online, complete with deforestation maps for all of the Brazilian rainforest. “That move toward transparency and accountability proved crucial because it made it possible for the science community, NGOs, and the public to engage,” said Rajão.

Since 2008, new forest-clearing hotspots have emerged in Peru and Colombia. While the spread of small-scale cattle ranching played a key role, other activities have also contributed. In Peru, gold mining, road building, and the establishment of oil palm plantations have all helped push annual clearing rates to some of the highest levels in that country since the early 2000s. In Colombia, the pace of deforestation began rising rapidly in 2015, when a civil war ended and made clearing forests for timber, coca production, subsistence farming, and other uses more viable.

“Small-scale mining is also a factor outside of Brazil in explaining the increase in small clearings, particularly in the northern Amazon,” Kalamandeen said. Indeed, the data shows spikes in deforestation of small patches (less than 1 hectare) in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana in 2012 — the same year that gold prices peaked. “However, the deforestation footprint from mining does seem to be small and short-lived in comparison to cattle,” she added. The image below shows deforestation around Las Claritas, a mine in Venezuela.

XPRIZE Rainforest

In 2019, deforestation in the Amazon hit the highest rates on record, and it is predicted by the WFF that, at the current rate of deforestation, by 2030, over a quarter of the Amazon will be lost. Rainforests once covered 14% of the world’s landmass. Now they cover 6%. 

The Amazon Rainforest: 5,500,000 km2 of the most breathtaking, biodiverse and valuable tract of rainforest in the world. One in ten species that exist on earth call it their home. So why are we tearing it down? Along with tropical forests from the Congo to Malaysia, the Amazon is facing destruction. But human intervention and innovation have the power to save it. 

Too often, we hear about the economic benefits of deforestation, as those with skin in the game try to justify the cost to the environment. Deforestation takes place to turn land into valuable agriculture resources, goes the argument, or for mining, or to make way for new infrastructures like roads and dams that can benefit communities and local economies. 

Trees are harvested to make palm oil or paper, or else for construction purposes: “Wealthy nations drive demand for tropical timber,” explains National Geographic, “and cash-strapped governments often grant logging concessions at a fraction of the land’s true volume.” 

There are short term economic term gains to cutting down this irreplaceable and incredible natural resource, but it’s also a false economy. World-leading rainforest conservation expert and Technical Lead of XPRIZE Rainforest, Peter Houlihan, believes that if we don’t race now to protect our rainforests we may forever face the consequences. 

“So many aspects of deforestation and rainforest degradation around the world do not look at future benefits of preservation,” he explains. “There’s a misconception about rainforests being undervalued and that’s not the case at all – their value is recognised and over-exploited and in totally unsustainable ways.” 

What can we do about it? “What we need to get at is sustainable, long-term solutions that keep tropical forests standing,” presses Houlihan. And time is of the essence. 

During years of researching on the ground in rainforests, Houlihan has seen how the building of roads and bridges, pitched as an infrastructure gain to local communities, are usually for the benefit of companies and governments – often foreign companies and governments – to mine valuable resources. “In many senses, it is a continued form of colonialism.”

If Houlihan has witnessed first hand how quick financial factors are being placed over future economic benefits, critical research concurs: “The forest should unambiguously be saved when measured in a purely economic sense,” urges one key study on the economics of the Amazon, from 2018. Conducted by economists and agricultural engineers, the research found that the economic benefit of the Amazon Rainforest, if it is conserved, would be $8.2 billion a year. 

The study took many aspects into account. It looked at the financial benefits of sustainable industries in the Amazon, like rubber tree farming and Brazil nut farming. It also found that tearing down the rainforest would have significant impacts on economies long term by decreasing rainfall, and could cost a staggering $422 million in annual loss to agriculture.

Yet the costs of projected climate change don’t stop there. Despite being less than 10% of the world's landmass, and housing just 0.5% of the global population, rainforests are – unequivocally – at the heart of the battle against climate change. As carbon sinks, rainforests slow climate change by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in their trees. Deforestation contributes to climate change, and climate change costs governments.

“This is becoming more evident every single year,” Houlihan tells us. “Right now, fires from California to the Tundra to the Amazon to the Pantanal are costing state and national governments billions of dollars. Draughts caused by climate change are making areas more fire-prone in dry seasons. Rainforest fires are occurring annually in Brazil and parts of the Congo Basin, while paces like Borneo in Southeast Asia are engulfed in flames.” We can think of the increasing number and intensity of cyclones and Atlantic Hurricanes here too, he says, as well as their ensuing costs to people’s livelihoods. 

A global commitment to better preserving rainforests wouldn’t only protect the plethora of life within them, but the people hit hardest by these climate shifts: people in the Global South, in coastal areas, on islands, as well as people in farming and agriculture industries, who are hurt by the fact that seasonality is becoming less and less predictable. 

Houlihan also cites the current global pandemic as yet another massive cost of deforestation. “The more rainforests are deforested and opened up in terms of access, and the more population growth expands in proximity to these environments, the more that future generations will be exposed to future pandemics.” 

Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a US-based non-profit dedicated to analysing and preventing pandemics, elaborates: “One-third of emerging diseases are the product of these rapid changes in land use, as people are pushed into contact with wildlife they would once have rarely encountered.”

Ultimately, says Houlihan, ecological tipping points beyond which ecosystems like rainforests will collapse have been predicted for decades; “it is a matter of global security and resilience that we save them”. Particularly as rainforests contain scientific insights that are being lost before they can even be revealed. 

The good news is, it’s not too late to change the course of history. We are at a fork in the road – we are using up these resources’ natural buffers, but our actions today could change tomorrow. 

The Rainforest Foundation suggests that there are things we can all do to save our rainforests now. Buying responsibly sourced products. Reducing our carbon footprints. Eliminating foods from our diet that are grown on deforested lands, from beef through to soy beans.

More locally, as Brazil doubles down on deforestation (literally – the area lost in January 2020 was double that in the same month in 2019, according to official figures), indigenous groups within the Amazon say they will “fight for the death” to protect their land. 

Dreaming of a better future, teenagers in Brazil have taken to the streets to protest in the wake of the wildfires. These young activists, inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg, are demanding change for the survival of humanity. “Hello, planet! Wake up! Without the Amazon, you can't breathe!" chanted activists in Rio de Janeiro last year, when anti-deforestation protests swept the country almost as quickly as the wildfires themselves, according to reports by NPR

The XPRIZE Rainforest, meanwhile, looks to incentivize exactly this kind of passion for protecting our planet’s tropical forests by rewarding those who are working on improving our understanding of rainforest ecosystems. Specifically, challenging the world’s innovators to come up with new technologies to catalog diverse forms of life within them. 

That people are out there, working on solutions, proves that we don’t have to wait for governments and corporations to do the right thing, a fight for a better future. 20% of the Amazon biome has already been lost, acting now is imperative to protecting the rest of our rainforests, and the communities of people living within them.