Professor uses satellites to protect Amazon forests, global climate

The Amazon is the world's largest rain forest and home to an untold number of species and natural resources. It also provides a vital means for removing an important greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. All of this is in danger, as the Amazon is rapidly shrinking.

Greg Asner, a faculty scientist with the Carnegie Institution at Stanford, is working with a multinational team to reverse this trend. Using both high-tech and low-tech tools, the researchers hope to safeguard the Amazon from one of its biggest threats - rampant logging by small operators who essentially poach timber. In Brazil, for example, loggers often take patches of trees without first obtaining permits from that country's environmental protection agency. While the practice, known as selective logging, may be sustainable, it has dire consequences. Asner will present his team's findings Dec. 10 and 11 at this year's San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific society with more than 35,000 members dedicated to advancing the understanding of the Earth and its environment.

"[Selective logging] acts like a net - when you take down one tree, you end up taking five to 20 other trees around it," as the trees are often intertwined or connected by vines, said Asner, an assistant professor, by courtesy, in the Stanford Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences. Only a small portion of this felled wood becomes harvested timber; the rest turns to waste. Selective logging dominates current landscape use in Brazil and is also among the biggest threats to the global environment.

At the same time, people involved in the timbering process - clearing land and removing wood with tractors - further denude the landscape. That landscape of destruction attracts ranchers and farmers, who move into the newly opened space and frequently expand it, thereby accelerating the rate of deforestation. By burning forest to clear it, they release carbon into the a

Contact: Dawn Levy
Stanford University

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