Are drylands the new normal?

Are drylands the new normal?

The employment of a new method, only possible thanks to the fine-grained quality of satellite images and the frequency at which they were taken, helped a team of scientists from 15 different institutions discover 467 million hectares (1.8 million square miles) of dryland forests that have escaped the public eye.

Jean-François Bastin, a remote sensing ecologist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome and the lead author of the study, said the team was “surprised and stunned” to see the bump in dryland forest cover in comparison to their last assessment. Globally, 1,079 million hectares (4.166 million square miles) of forest covers this arid biome. This shows a 7% increase from estimates previously published.

These sections of the Earth, where water is more susceptible to evaporation and there seems to be a lack of precipitation, account for roughly 41% of land. They stretch from the tropics to the upper latitudes of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Throughout the years, ecologists have often paid more attention to the boreal forests because they cover larger areas than dryland forests, but this is soon changing.

Years prior, part of the reason for the underestimation of dryland forests had to do with the methodology being implemented. The classical approach for quantifying woodlands relied on vegetation signals from specific points. Then, scientists would use models to estimate how much area is covered by growth.

Thanks to new technology and the change in method being implemented, ecologists will possess the ability to adequately observe the changes of forest around the world.


LatinAmerican Post | Manuela Pulido
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto

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