Scientists from Germany and the Netherlands have found that since 1960, a significant part of the forest has been converted to arable land, and the savannah to pasture. These territories are equivalent in area to Africa and Europe combined.
The work was published in the journal Nature Communication s. Quantifying the dynamics of land use change is important to address global social challenges such as food security, climate change and biodiversity loss. Previous studies have shown that the transformation of the earth's landscape is relatively small - just under 11 million square kilometers, that is, slightly more than the area of Europe.
But scientists from Wageningen University (Netherlands) and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) carried out their estimates and found that this figure is four times more - and is 43 million square kilometers, larger than the area of Europe and Africa. Changes have taken place in just 60 years. Since 1960, the study showed that the total forest cover of the planet has decreased by almost a million square kilometers, and arable land has increased by about the same extent.
It is also important that the “replacement” was uneven. Forested areas in Europe, Russia, East Asia and North America have increased, while in the developing countries of the South they have decreased. Accordingly, arable land, on the contrary, decreased in size in northern countries, and increased in southern countries.
Meanwhile, it is tropical forests that are considered the main "suppliers" of oxygen on the planet. Deforestation occurred to produce beef, sugarcane and soybeans in the Brazilian Amazon, oil palm in Southeast Asia, and cocoa in Nigeria and Cameroon. Scientists argue that their calculations are more consistent, because past research has been fragmented in space and time. They were based on assumptions, and satellite data at that time was still of poor quality and divided the land into only two or three categories.
The new work is based on long-term land-use statistics compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, showing urban areas, arable land, forests, grasslands, pastures, and sparsely vegetated areas. In addition, the scientists used high-resolution satellite imagery at a scale of one square kilometer.