How SkyTruth helps us understand deforestation

20 November 2015

When a buildup of hot gases and magma burst through the rock and ice covering Mount St. Helens in 1980, the ensuing eruption leveled huge swaths of the surrounding pristine wilderness. As a geologist analyzing satellite images of the blast’s aftermath, John Amos noticed a striking pattern: photographs from the blast zone showed whole stands of trees blown down by the eruption as far as the eye could see — a massive deforestation event — but when viewed from above, Amos saw a checkerboard pattern of clear-cut logging extending miles beyond the eruption’s wake. From the images, it was clear that the cumulative deforestation caused by our own management practices was worse than the apocalyptic damage of a historic volcanic event.

“We were vastly more powerful than nature in our ability to destroy forest, and the satellite imagery made that very clear to me,” Amos explained, recounting the damage. “I thought… it shouldn’t just be people with my skill set who get to see these stories and understand the impacts of how human activity and decision-making is systematically reworking the landscapes we all depend on.”

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