› Eye Opener

The Trees Have Eyes in the Sky

This online tool uses big data to track deforestation around the world.

Now if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, someone will at least see it. That’s thanks to Global Forest Watch, a free online tool that uses satellite images to track tree-cover loss and gain across the globe in near real time. Anyone—governments, companies, nonprofits, me, you—can use the site, upload data, or add local observations to tell a deeper story. 

In the year since the World Resources Institute and 60 partners (including Google) launched the site, the landscape has changed both literally and figuratively. Major companies like Unilever and Asia Pulp are using the technology to keep themselves honest about commitments to stop deforestation, while advocates can police wrongdoers, and respond to people and events threatening the forests. And it's getting better all the time: The developers are working to present clearer images and build in an instant alert system that makes it even easier to speak for the trees.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Us