Global Forest Watch: A Real-Time Mapping Project

Rebecca Maxwell


It is widely acknowledged that the world’s forests are facing serious threats. According to the World Group Institute, over 50 soccer fields of forests are being lost every minute. In just 2012 alone, 20.8 million hectares (over 80,000 square miles) of forest were lost. There is also a dire need for better management of forest resources, and to this end, the World Group Institute launched the Global Forest Watch (GFW) on February 20, 2014. Global Forest Watch is a real-time online forest monitoring system that incorporates satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing for better decision making.

Originally, Global Forest Watch began in 2007 as an initiative from the World Group Institute. This was as a way to establish a global monitoring system for the world’s forests by merging the latest technology with partnerships between different countries. In the past, WGI published forest atlases and reports to help decision makers achieve the sustainable management of forest resources with better planning and monitoring methods. Some of those global partners included Russia, Canada, Indonesia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, the Central Africa Republic, Chile, and Venezuela.

Those activities from the World Group Institute continue and are now integrated into the Global Forest Watch mapping project. The principal aim behind Global Forest Watch is to provide up-to-date, actionable, and reliable data about that is taking place in forests worldwide. Global Forest Watch merges real-time satellite technology, mobile technology, crowd-sourced data, forest management maps, protected-area maps, and on-the-ground networks in order to promote transparency regarding the world’s forests.

This data can then be used by government leaders, buyers and suppliers of forest products, key decision makers, and even concerned citizens to better manage our forests. The Global Forest Watch mapping project draws on a massive collection from various resources like the Landsat satellite program from NASA. The World Group Institute created Global Forest Watch in conjunction with more than 40 organizations including Google and Esri.

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Users can access Global Forest Watch through Esri’s ArcGIS Online cloud service, pull up a basemap, and then select all different kinds of datasets about the world’s forests using the interface. Global Forest Watch displays which locations are intact forest landscapes, which areas are gaining forest cover, which sites are protected, and which places are biodiversity hot spots. Plus, users can see which areas are being used for activities such as logging and mining. Moreover, this online tool acts like an alert system in a way, showing areas of the world where deforestation is spreading.

Global Forest Watch also includes user-submitted data. Visitors to the website can read firsthand accounts about what is happening to forests on the ground and even submit their own stories. Individuals can use the website to track deforestation in their neck of the woods as well as find forest statistics for each country on the globe. The hope is that users of this online tool will be given a more comprehensive view of the complex issues surrounding the world’s forests, one of our most precious resources.

Visit: Global Forest Watch



Global Forest Watch Launch Details – World Resources Institute

Global Forest Watch Maps Now Available on ArcGIS Online – Esri Press Release

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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on