Category: forests

Visualizing the World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age

This post is by Omri Wallach from Visual Capitalist

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The World’s Loss of Forests Title

Visualizing The World’s Loss of Forests Since the Ice-Age

How much of Earth used to be covered by forests, and what portion is covered today?

The effects of deforestation on the climate are already being seen and felt, and these repercussions are expected to increase with time. That’s why more than 100 world leaders pledged to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 at the COP26 climate summit.

As today’s graphic using data from Our World in Data highlights, the world’s forests have been shrinking since the last ice age at an increasingly rapid pace.

Earth’s Surface Area: 10,000 Years Ago

To examine the deforestation situation properly, it helps to understand Earth’s total available surface area. After all, our world can feel massive when glancing at maps or globes. But of the roughly 51 billion hectares in total surface area on Earth, more than 70% is taken up by oceans.

What’s left is 14.9 billion hectares of land, not all of which is habitable. Here is how the land was allocated 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age and before the rise of human civilizations.

Uninhabitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

  • Barren land (19% or 2.8bn ha)—Includes deserts, salt flats, exposed rocks, and dunes
  • Glaciers (10% or 1.5bn ha)—The vast majority concentrated in Antarctica

Habitable land on Earth (10,000 years ago):

Irrecoverable Carbon: The Importance of Preventing Deforestation

The following content is sponsored by the Carbon Streaming Corporation


Irrecoverable Carbon

The Briefing

  • Researchers have identified natural places that the world cannot afford to lose due to their irreplaceable carbon reserves, known as “irrecoverable carbon”
  • Nearly 50% of global irrecoverable carbon is found in forests

Irrecoverable Carbon: Preventing Deforestation

The Earth is home to some natural ecosystems that function as carbon vaults, storing massive amounts of carbon. Researchers developed the concept of “irrecoverable carbon” to identify areas on the basis of three criteria relevant for conservation:

  1. Manageability: How they can be influenced by direct and local human actions
  2. Vulnerability: The magnitude of carbon lost upon disturbance
  3. Recoverability: The recoverability of carbon stocks following loss

Applying the three criteria across all ecosystems reveals that some places contain carbon that humans can manage, and if lost, could not be recovered by 2050, when the world needs to reach net-zero.

The above graphic sponsored by Carbon Streaming Corporation charts global irrecoverable carbon by land area, highlighting important ecosystems that function as carbon sinks.

Breaking Down the Earth’s Irrecoverable Carbon

According to researchers Noon, M.L., Goldstein, A. et al., natural ecosystems contain around 139.1 ± 443.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of irrecoverable carbon globally. (Because the amount of stored carbon cannot be negative, the researchers restrained the uncertainty to 0–582.7 Gt.)

Here’s a breakdown of global irrecoverable carbon by ecosystem type:

EcosystemTotal Irrecoverable Carbon (Gt)% of Global Total
Tropical and subtropical forest41.129.5%
Boreal and temperate peat23.416.9%
Tropical (Read more...)