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'Lost' Forests the Size of 60 Percent of Australia Discovered in Plain Sight

May 15, 2017 08:57 AM EDT
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Amazon rainforest
There's much more dryland forests than previously believed.
(Photo : Mario Tama/Getty Images)

It's almost inconceivable that 467 million hectares of forests -- equal to about 60 percent of Australia's size -- get "lost," but exactly that much previously unreported forests has recently been discovered.

According to a report from Phys Org, a new global analysis surveyed the drylands and found 45 percent more forest area than previous surveys.

The new dryland forest was found in all continents, but most of it were in sub-Saharan Africa, around the Mediterranean, central India, coastal Australia, western South America, northeastern Brazil, northern Colombia and Venezuela, and northern parts of the boreal forests in Canada and Russia. In Africa, the known dryland forest area has doubled with the study.

Although it seems impossible to have so much forestry left undiscovered, drylands are difficult to measure on a global scale because of it contains very little trees. This type of forest are dubbed drylands because they get less water in precipitation than the amount they lose in evaporation and plant transpiration.

The new study uncovered the new drylands by eschewing the older, low-resolution satellite images without ground validation that were used by previous surveys. Instead, the researchers made use of high-resolution satellite imagery from Google Earth Engine then used a simple visual interpretation of tree number and density.

"In the modern digital age we think we know everything about the Earth, but a lot of that knowledge comes from satellite imagery, like Google Earth, but when you see that type of satellite data, you have to make estimations on what type of vegetation occurs on the ground," Andrew Lowe of the University of Adelaide, who headed the research, told National Geographic.

Drylands used to be underappreciated, but this study proves they have a bigger capacity to support trees and forests than initially realized.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.

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