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Satellite Mapping Study Reveals Nearly 6 Million Trees Vanished from Indian Farmlands in Three Years

ByNE India Broadcast

May 19, 2024

India has potentially lost close to 5.8 million full-grown trees from agricultural lands between 2019 and 2022, according to a recent satellite-imagery analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Utilizing advanced satellite data from RapidEye and PlanetScope, with resolutions between three to five meters, the researchers meticulously tracked individual large trees across Indian farmlands starting from 2010.

This approach allowed for precise detection and analysis of tree numbers over time. In contrast, the Forest Survey of India (FSI), which also monitors tree cover, relies on Sentinel satellite data with a coarser resolution of 10 meters, suitable for mapping forest blocks but not individual trees.

The findings highlight a troubling trend: from 2010 to 2022, approximately 11% of the trees detected on farmlands during 2010-2011 had vanished by the period of 2018-2022. This significant reduction in tree numbers was determined by comparing satellite images over the years, leading researchers to conclude that these trees had “disappeared.” India, with 56% of its land dedicated to agriculture and 22% covered by forests, has the largest agricultural area in the world. However, the changes in tree cover within these farmlands have been largely overlooked until now. This new study underscores the critical need to monitor and address tree cover loss outside of traditional forested areas.

Interestingly, the FSI’s latest report indicates an increase in India’s overall tree cover from 2019 to 2021. However, this data focuses on the total acreage rather than the number of individual trees, potentially overlooking significant losses within specific regions like farmlands. The FSI’s methodology, while comprehensive for broader forest areas, misses the granularity needed to detect changes in individual tree counts as effectively as the method employed by the University of Copenhagen researchers.

The implications of this study are profound. Trees play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance, providing shade, and supporting biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. The loss of nearly 6 million trees could have far-reaching consequences for the environment, agricultural productivity, and local communities dependent on these ecosystems.

This research calls for a reevaluation of current monitoring practices and emphasizes the necessity for more detailed and localized studies to understand and mitigate tree cover loss. It also highlights the importance of integrating high-resolution satellite data and advanced machine learning techniques in environmental monitoring to capture the true scale of changes occurring in our landscapes.

( Edited by Ashmita Nandi)

Photo Credit: Pixabay 

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