Global tree cover has increased 7% since 1982, finds biggest ever study

Forests chopped down in tropics outweighed by more trees in regions which were previously too cold

Colin Drury
Friday 10 August 2018 12:47 BST
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There are more trees on earth now than in 1982
There are more trees on earth now than in 1982 (AFP/Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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Amid growing urbanisation, deforestation and agricultural expansion, it’s long been thought the number of trees across the planet is being reduced.

However, that belief is probably wrong, according to new figures.

The biggest ever analysis of global land change has discovered there are more trees across the earth today than there were 36 years ago.

The study, published in the journal Nature this month, shows trees now cover 7 per cent more of the earth’s surface – roughly 2.24 million square kilometres – than they did in 1982.

“This overall net gain is the result of a net loss in the tropics being outweighed by a net gain in the extratropics,” the report states.

The study, led by scientists from the University of Maryland, in the US, analysed 35 years’ worth of satellite data to provide the most comprehensive picture ever made of the changing use of land.

However, if this sounds like positive news, it should probably be met with caution.

Tree loss in the tropics is caused by agricultural expansion, while the new growth areas is in regions which were previously too cold to support such flourishing life, suggesting global warming is causing previously unidentified changes to the planet’s landscapes.

The study, which took two years to compile, also found the earth’s bare ground cover – natural vegetation – has decreased by more than 3 per cent, most notably in agricultural areas of Asia.

It states that 60 per cent of all change appears to be directly driven by human activity. Of the remaining 40 per cent, the study suggests, most of the change can be attributed to indirect results of human actions.

“The mapped land changes and the driver attributions reflect a human-dominated Earth system,” it concludes.

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