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Global Tree Cover Has Expanded More Than 7 Percent Since 1982

Satellite data finds that gains temperate and boreal forests offset reductions in tropical forests.

TreesMeryllDreamstimeMeryll/DreamstimeGlobal tree canopy cover increased by 2.24 million square kilometers (865,000 square miles) between 1982 and 2016, reports a new study in Nature.

Researchers using satellite data tracked the changes in various land covers to find that gains in forest area in the temperate, subtropical, and boreal climatic zones are offsetting declines in the tropics. In addition, forest area is expanding even as areas of bare ground and short vegetation are shrinking. Furthermore, forests in montane regions are expanding as climate warming enables trees to grow higher up on mountains.

Tree canopy in Europe, including European Russia, has increased by 35 percent—the greatest gain among all continents. The researchers attribute much of that increase to the "natural afforestation on abandoned agricultural land," which has been "a common process in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union."

The researchers' satellite data also confirms the effectiveness of China's large-scale reforestation and afforestation programs, leading to a tree canopy gain of 34 percent in that country. Declining forest cover in the western United States, meanwhile, has been offset by increased tree canopy cover in the eastern part of the country. The result is that overall U.S. tree cover increased by 15 percent in the study period.

The study notes that the expansion of the agricultural frontier is the primary driver of deforestation in the tropics. "The three countries with the largest area of net tree cover loss during 1982–2016 are all located in South America: Brazil (−385,000 km2, −8%), Argentina (−113,000 km2, −25%) and Paraguay (−79,000 km2, −34%)," report the researchers.

These new findings contradict earlier studies that reported a continuing net loss of forest cover. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 reported, "In 1990 the world had 4,128 million [hectares] of forest; by 2015 this area had decreased to 3,999 million ha. This is a change from 31.6 percent of global land area in 1990 to 30.6 percent in 2015."

If the Nature study is correct, the world gained 2.24 million square kilometers rather than lost 1.29 million square kilometers in forest area in the past three decades. Expanding woodlands suggests that humanity has begun the process of withdrawing from the natural world which in turn will provide greater scope for other species to rebound and thrive.

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  • Cy||

    It's almost as if warmer temperatures and more water in the environment are good for life on planet earth.... nah...

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Indeed. The Earth is still in an ice age, caused by the evolution of grasslands (and, to a lesser extent, the erosion of the Deccan Traps). Ice ages are a small fraction of the history of the earth and usually result in decreased overall biological productivity. What if Gaia wants us to release all these fossil fuels?

  • Bearded Spock||

    "Save the Earth, Burn Coal!" does have a nice ring to it.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    There's some kind of karma joke in there about burning dead dinosaurs to warm the planet that killed them with cold.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Damn thats funny. I am going to steal it and pass it off as my own joke somewhere.

  • JesseAz||

    It's not the water. There are multiple studies that show an increase in CO2 as percentage of air allows plants to utilize less water than normal, so you get a natural greening even in more arid places. It increases crop yields as well.

  • renewableguy||

    There is short term co2 fertilization. If you chose to ignor everything else with climate change, then you can clearly enjoy all the bliss you like. If you look at the whole picture, as the scientists do, our crops will do less into the future that we depend on. Farmers will have to adapt by planting crops that get through stronger droughts or more intense rains, or higher temperatures. All take their toll on our various crops. With ignorance in abundance in the whitehouse, we will be delayed in the adaptations that we need to do to make for all of us.

  • Rossami||

    Great hypothesis. Too bad none of it is backed up by facts. The trend for droughts is flat despite pretty good records during the period that CO2 levels rose from 280 ppm to 400 ppm. Other than some unvalidated computer models, there is no reason to believe that trend will change soon. The same is true for the claim of more intense rains. Temperatures are rising - at about the same rate that they have been since the end of the Little Ice Age. And, yes, farmers will have to adapt - just like they had to adapt when we went into the Little Ice Age.

    Science does not stop with making hypotheses. That's just guessing. Science starts there but necessarily includes testing those hypotheses against actual, observable data. And note that computer models are not data. Models are mathematical restatements of the hypothesis - useful but not proof of anything.

  • LynchPin1477||

    These new findings contradict earlier studies that reported a continuing net loss of forest cover.

    Even if the new result is wrong and global tree cover has decreased, it seems clear that it is on the rise in countries rich enough to enjoy the "natural" (for lack of a better term) as a luxury good. Providing yet more evidence that prosperity is the best form of environmentalism.

  • ||

    Even if the new result is wrong and global tree cover has decreased

    I believe Ron is being generous. The FAO study is self-funded and self-published while the Nature study was more independently funded, peer-reviewed, and published.

    FAO routinely publishes outright scientific garbage in support of it's aims. Not that Nature is completely immune to error and groupthink but the setup is at least distributed to avoid the overt appearance of printing self-funded propaganda.

    It's like wondering "If the PETA/Greenpeace/UCS's study on the estimates of animal cruelty/whaling/nuclear accidents." are correct.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Not that Nature is completely immune to error and groupthink

    The running joke in my field is that if you publish in Nature, you've got a 99% chance of getting tenure and 50% chance of being right. :-)

  • Ron||

    Expand the tree cover which I'm in favor of but be prepared for more fires

  • LynchPin1477||

    I listened to an interesting podcast about home construction in fire-prone areas.

    The claim was that you can design a home to withstand even the most intense forest fires with a combination of the right building materials (hint: more metal, less wood) and an adequate buffer of "defensible space". I'm not sure how reliable the claims are, and it wouldn't be cheap to implement, but neither is letting brush build up to such an extent that the fires that do form become unmanageable.

    If you're interested

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Defensible space sounds like a good idea for the exurbs. Then the exurbs keep the suburbs safe. We've got deer within walking distance of the George Washington Bridge these days.

  • Ron||

    I design homes for a living and am well up on the all the rules and defensible space the rules have added 30% to housing cost in California and as far as defensible space some of it is applicable some is not and no one moves to the forest to cut down the trees but even with defensible space and new construction techniques it will not protect from a fire storm.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I would think ceramic tile roofs and stucco are pretty fire retardant and protect against intense Summer weather.

  • Ron||

    Until a flaming tree branch crashes through your roof unless you want no trees within 100 feet of your home. Also the blast wave from a rushing fire will often blow through windows. the new requirement for tempered glass windows helps with that but not 100% and once that layer is broken through by the blast the inner layer will transmit enough heat to start curtains on fire. If there is a fire remove curtains and other items away from windows.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Oh yeah windows. Didnt think of that.

    Some kind of shutter to protect the window opening would be helpful, possibly.

    I have a self-contained water tank/foam system for fire fighting.

  • Ron||

    I'm good with shutters and it will probably be required soon. but also don't leave the car or lawnmower or bbq parked near the house when it goes so does everything else.

    When I built my house in the woods in 1991 I asked the insurance provider if I would get a break if I installed sprinklers on the roof to protect it form forest fires they said NO. I think maybe they mis understood but then again maybe not

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Well, the Forest Service engaged in a misguided 100 year effort to suppress wildfires, and we are still paying for it. Fires are natural in many ecosystems, including much of the west and all of the southeast. The longleaf pine, which used to stretch from southern Virginia to eastern Texas in one of the world's largest forests, is fire adapted, as is wiregrass, which grows underneath the open canopy. You can see where this forest grew by looking at a map of lightning strikes, overlaid with the coastal plain areas with sandy soil.

  • Conchfritters||

    And the jackpine is another example, which only releases its seeds during a fire. Boreal forests need fire to regulate themselves.

    Compare that to Canada, where they usually let the fires burn. Although that is probably not a great example, since they have 10% of our population and almost the same land size (Canada is slightly larger). But we should still allow people to build their mansions in tinderboxes of Southern California, with the understanding that they are on the hook if their joint burns to the ground.

  • Ron||

    the forest service used to let fires go natural until in 1920 200 people died in a fire then they changed plans. that said natural fires are all right but the problem these days is 95% of fires are man made as in arson and stupidity and thus not comparable to the past.

    Some of the other issues we face these days is instead of fighting fires much of the equipment is now stationed to defend individual homes instead of fighting the fire and some forest are not allowed vehicle access even the forest service is not allowed to use vehicles to fight those fires. A big issue is also in California where logging has been reduced greatly there is now way to much growth of both underbrush and trees. its far more complicated than when nature took care of it all.

  • Iheartskeet||

    IIRC the pre-Columbian indians used to set fires a LOT and indeed the huge longleaf pine forests (as well as the Great Plains) are more properly thought of as huge "cultivated" game farms. The fires made it easier to spot game, temporarily reduced parasites, and the regrowth provided more food.

    People want to say its lighting all the time, but in fact these things are man-made. Left to their "natural" state, forests become a lot more dense, and the Great plains would have tree cover.

  • Ron||

    there weren't that many Native Americans compared to todays onslaught of homeless idiots burning their TP and people burning leaves all times of the year or running unprotected equipment. California today 300,000,000+ people vs pre columbian population of 300,000 thats 1000% increase in population and 1000% potential fire increase, 1 fire in 1492 vs 1000 fires in 2018.

  • BYODB||

    It's an absurdity to think that we have any clue how many people lived in the America's that long ago. The Mayan roads strongly indicate that there were, in fact, a shit ton of people here a very long time ago.

  • Ron||

    and the Mayans did a hell of a lot land clearing for their roads and cities, its not a new phenominom

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That's incorrect. The Great Plains do not receive enough rain to support a forest. And while the Native Americans did indeed set fires, the longleaf pine ecosystem has been dominated by fires for millions of years.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Hmmm. Forgot where I read that. Perhaps it was "1491", but not sure. Is this another of those history books (like "Collapse") thats really bunk ?

  • LynchPin1477||

    Slightly OT, but I was listening to a recent episode of Freakanomics featuring a techno-optimist (some former Microsoft guy) and the a climate justice activist (the former president of Ireland). The host asked the climate activist about nuclear power and her response was to claim a lack of detailed knowledge and to point out that it has problems like waste and accidents like Fukishima, but to admit that it could be a "bridge" to solar and wind.

    To which I thought:

    1) No, it can't be a bridge to solar or wind because solar and wind can't produce enough power unless you develop huge swaths of land - something environmentalists will never go for.

    2) If you consider yourself a leading climate justice activist, how can you *not* educate yourself about nuclear power? In this case, ignorance seemed like a cop out.

    3) *If* the most catastrophic climate change predictions are correct, I'd gladly accept a Fukishima or a TMI (in which no one was killed by release of radiation and there has been no measurable uptick in radiation-related disease) 30 years as a tradeoff. Hell, I'd accept a Chernobyl. Anyone who truly believes in the worst predictions of climate change would be insane not to do the same.

    I get so angry listening to so-called environmentalists scare-mongering about nuclear power and pursuing fundamentally inadequate technologies like solar and wind.

  • ||

    That's a good point...not to mention the fact that the Fukishima plant was fairly old (first came on line in 1970) and newer ones could be built much safer (making the likelihood of another incident, let alone catastrophe even less likely).

  • LynchPin1477||

    My good friend works for the NRC. His says that Fukishima would never have even been built in the US. Of course, you can't plan for everything and there may very well be undiscovered failure modes in existing US plants. But that's not the point, because even really bad nuclear accidents are orders of magnitude less bad than the worst climate change predictions.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Even new nuke plants dont take seismic destruction very seriously.

    Big mistake since an earthquake and subsequent Tsunami resulted in the damage to Fukishima.
    Nuclear plant information

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    The biggest obstacle to more nuclear is not evironmentalists per se, but the general public.

  • Paloma||

    I object to the term climate justice.

  • renewableguy||

    1) No, it can't be a bridge to solar or wind because solar and wind can't produce enough power unless you develop huge swaths of land - something environmentalists will never go for.

    The footprint of solar and wind is very acceptable compared to global warming. Lots of studies have been done to show this.

    2) If you consider yourself a leading climate justice activist, how can you *not* educate yourself about nuclear power? In this case, ignorance seemed like a cop out.

    Nuclear power works great until things go wrong. And then you have really serious problems. Obviously you haven't studied the problems.

    3) *If* the most catastrophic climate change predictions are correct, I'd gladly accept a Fukishima or a TMI (in which no one was killed by release of radiation and there has been no measurable uptick in radiation-related disease) 30 years as a tradeoff. Hell, I'd accept a Chernobyl. Anyone who truly believes in the worst predictions of climate change would be insane not to do the same.

    Germany hates nuclear so much, they chose coal over nuclear. Radiation is a slow ugly sickness to those unlucky enough to be in it.

  • Whorton||

    "The footprint of solar and wind is very acceptable compared to global warming. Lots of studies have been done to show this."

    Really? To who? Maybe you think vast swaths of land covered by noisy raptor killing wind turbines, or covered with black panels where there used to be land with living plants, is great, but a lot of people DON'T feel the love. I am already starting to see a backlash against the overbuilding of wind and solar. If there are so many wonderful studies, why didn't you cite a few?

    "Nuclear power works great until things go wrong. And then you have really serious problems. Obviously you haven't studied the problems."

    How many American nuclear facilities have had problems? Essentially one, Three Mile Island and nobody died, the state is not a glass parking lot and huge swaths of land didn't have to be cleared. Face it, Wind and Solar only work when the sun is out and wind is blowing. People still need electricity at night.

    "Germany hates nuclear so much, they chose coal over nuclear. Radiation is a slow ugly sickness to those unlucky enough to be in it."

    Good for Germany. We have plenty of coal as well, but you enviros are so sure coal is the work of the devil. You can't have it both ways and the world is not going to go back to a pre agrarian paradise to "save the earth" which does not need saved in the first place.

  • renewableguy||

    https://goo.gl/WJqF7q

    Coal is our most destructive energy there is. Including feeding hungry coal burning plants.

    Plants can grow between and under solar installations.

    Wind barely disturbs farming, giving the farmers a substantial consistent income.

  • renewableguy||

    https://goo.gl/Ny6FDQ

    The benefits of RE are numerous. Cost savings, health, jobs, tax revenue, etc.

  • Whorton||

    "The footprint of solar and wind is very acceptable compared to global warming. Lots of studies have been done to show this."

    Really? To who? Maybe you think vast swaths of land covered by noisy raptor killing wind turbines, or covered with black panels where there used to be land with living plants, is great, but a lot of people DON'T feel the love. I am already starting to see a backlash against the overbuilding of wind and solar. If there are so many wonderful studies, why didn't you cite a few?

    "Nuclear power works great until things go wrong. And then you have really serious problems. Obviously you haven't studied the problems."

    How many American nuclear facilities have had problems? Essentially one, Three Mile Island and nobody died, the state is not a glass parking lot and huge swaths of land didn't have to be cleared. Face it, Wind and Solar only work when the sun is out and wind is blowing. People still need electricity at night.

    "Germany hates nuclear so much, they chose coal over nuclear. Radiation is a slow ugly sickness to those unlucky enough to be in it."

    Good for Germany. We have plenty of coal as well, but you enviros are so sure coal is the work of the devil. You can't have it both ways and the world is not going to go back to a pre agrarian paradise to "save the earth" which does not need saved in the first place.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    If every house and business had solar on its roof, the power demand during daylight would be mostly covered.

    Better small wind turbines and batteries are required to cover nightitme energy requirements.

  • JWatts||

    By my calculations Europe is doomed by 2084 as the Tree completely take over and crowd the humans out of existence. It's the florapocalypse!

  • LynchPin1477||

    M. Night Shyamalaman did it

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Thank you so much for reminding of that God awful piece of shit movie.

  • Dillinger||

    Dr. Who did it.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I'm more worried that killer environmentalist robots will learn to walk on land and go after the species those preservationists hate the most.

  • lap83||

    "I need your clothes, your boots and your electric scooter"

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Great. Orange County, New York is less that 900 square miles. Let's turning it into a sprawling new city that can house 10 million people to alleviate the housing shortage in metropolitan NYC. I'm tempted to apply to become the policy adviser for that congressional candidate in the Bronx if that's what it takes to make this new city happen.

  • lap83||

    The tree cover has probably expanded a lot in the USA since 2016 because Nazis like to march in the shade

  • sharmota4zeb||

    You joke, but Upstate New York has farmland turning into forests instead of big cities, partly because progressives in the Democrat party neglected to open up the immigration gates to Jews. They didn't want to loose all those trees and cropland. It was a matter of having enough living space.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Lebensraum is a bitch.

  • Conchfritters||

    Tree canopy in Europe, including European Russia, has increased by 35 percent—the greatest gain among all continents. The researchers attribute much of that increase to the "natural afforestation on abandoned agricultural land

    I attribute it to the fact that they haven't had a massive land war in Europe for 70+ years. Wars are terrible for forests, and other living things.

  • Robert||

    I had this experience in the 1990s when hiking in Pyramid Mtn. Pk. in NJ. I saw that it'd been farmland that'd long since gone back to wilderness, because farming was no longer in much demand. We didn't need that much land any more for farms.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Global Tree Cover Has Expanded More Than 7 Percent Since 1982

    Good thing too. We're gonna need those trees to cover 500 million paper straws used every day.

  • Aloysious||

    What is this one article a month stuff, Bailey? Are you blowing off work and chasing the wimminz?

  • Iheartskeet||

    Man, is there a single damn environmental disaster thats real ? First the great pacific garbage patch turned out not to be a thing...now we have MORE trees ? Next you'll be telling me coral reefs aren't dying off..

    Only one that comes to mind is the destruction of the world's fisheries.That seems pretty real...and one caused by a lack of markets/property rights, not because of them. Sigh, if only we had more capitalism...

  • ||

    Next you'll be telling me coral reefs aren't dying off..

    Warmer atmospheric conditions have caused the ozone hole to close back up sooner than expected.

  • Whorton||

    WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!

  • Dillinger||

    Jennifer Aniston wins.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Miss Stevens in South Park?

    Second Version of song:
    Doo-doo-doo, da-da-do-do-wow!
    There's a place called the rainforest that truly sucks ass
    Let's knock it all down and get rid of it fast
    You say 'save the rainforest', but what do you know?
    You've never been to the rainforest before!
    Getting Gay with Kids is here
    To tell you things you might not like to hear
    You only fight these causes 'cos caring sells
    All you activists can go fuck yourselves.

    Someday if we work hard boys and girls..
    There'll be no more rainforests left in the entire world..
    Getting Gay with Kids is here
    To spread the word, and bring you cheer
    Getting Gay with Kids is here
    Lets knock down the rainforest, whaddaya say?
    Its totally gay, it's totally gay

  • Jerry B.||

    Wonder when the attacks by eco-nuts on Nature for not following the "only bad climate news allowed" narrative will begin.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It will tie in with lost Congressional seats for Democrats in election 2018.

  • Duelles||

    And like global warming where some places get cooler and others warmer, some places lose forests and some places gain. And like Obama's economy even 1% increase is good. Go figure!

  • renewableguy||

    Most places warmer and only a few cooler. Or do yyou just want to see it a different way?

  • Spookk||

    Hilarious that anyone would use the height of Maxxam forest rapine in the US as a baseline for tree canopy.

  • BYODB||

    Even more hilarious is that anyone would assume there is a baseline for tree canopy. There is none.

  • Kenrm||

    Considering the means and methods of measurement of today vs decades/centuries ago, is a comparison of apples and oranges.

  • renewableguy||

    Explain.

  • jhon0009||

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