MapMaker: Amazonian Tree Cover Loss

MapMaker: Amazonian Tree Cover Loss

Deforestation is when humans remove or thin forests for lumber or to use the land where the trees stood for crops, grazing, extraction (mining, oil, or gas), or development as the population increases and people migrate.


5 - 12+


Biology, Ecology, Conservation, Earth Science, Climatology, Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Physical Geography

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One large issue facing our environment is deforestation. Deforestation is when humans remove or thin forests for lumber or to use the land where the trees stood for crops, grazing, extraction (mining, oil, or gas), or development as the population increases and people migrate. Sometimes the land is cleared by small-scale farmers, some indigenous people to a region, who use the ancient practice of slash and burn agriculture to make room for crop growth. However, the ash from the burned leaves the soil fertile for only a short period of time before it must be abandoned and another section burned for crop growth.

Deforestation has impacts locally, regionally, and globally. Locally, removing trees through burning can reduce air quality impacting the health of nearby people and animals. Fires can easily spread to nearby crop fields or populated areas. Lower rates of evapotranspiration by trees and other plants in the area can make the place more prone to drought. Rainfall can lead to flooding and landslides without the vegetation to hold land in place. Regionally, the loss of forests results in biodiversity loss and puts many species at risk of extinction. This is especially true in tropical regions where biodiversity is high. Globally, forests sequester carbon. As part of the carbon cycle, trees take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and transform it into oxygen storing the CO2 in its biomass. When those trees are burned they release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and its accumulation in Earth’s atmosphere is causing global warming.

The highest rate of deforestation occurs in the tropics and sub-tropics. The Amazon rainforest, in particular, has been especially impacted. This massive tropical forest absorbs more greenhouse gasses than any other in the world, making it a valuable carbon sink. However, scientists suspect that the Amazon rainforest has switched from a carbon sink to a source of carbon emissions due to deforestation. It is one of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth, and it has lost nearly one-fifth of its forest cover, threatening an incalculable number of species with extinction.

This map layer was created with data from the Global Forest Watch tracking the change in tree cover. Here we present tree cover loss. This data has been gathered from satellite images taken from 2000 to 2020 and analyzed for vegetation greater than five meters (16 feet) in height. It is important to note, however, that loss, as measured here, may not be human-caused deforestation. It could be wildfire, disease, or show a gap in a forest where young trees are still too small to close the tree canopy.

You can help slow deforestation by:

  • Planting trees native to your region if you live in an area where a forest used to be
  • Advocating for policy change that protects existing forests and lands and reduces greenhouse emissions
  • Raising awareness in your community
  • Going paperless or choosing paper products from sustainable-certified sources
  • Avoiding palm oil or using products with palm oil is produced responsibly.
Media Credits

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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
GIS Specialist
Zoë Lieb, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

February 21, 2024

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