How Scientists Used Satellite Imagery to Find an Untouched Mountain Rainforest

Elizabeth Borneman


There are many parts of our world that have yet to see human footsteps. Human eyes, though, are a different story.

With the help of the satellite technology behind Google Earth, scientists are able to discover unique geographic features, biospheres, and even untouched rainforests located at the tops of the world’s most hidden mountains.

Part of what makes the stories of early explorers so interesting to us is that they were seeing things for the first time in recorded history. Today, it seems highly unlikely that many of us will have that same experience.

As the world grows increasingly more populated, there are still a few people willing to go the extra miles through the most rugged terrain in order to continue the legacy of human exploration in the age of technology.

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Using Satellite Imagery to Detect a Rainforest at the Top of a Mountain in Mozambique

A Welsh researcher named Dr. Julian Bayliss used satellite images from Google Earth to pinpoint a small rainforest located at the top of a mountain called Mount Lico.

He put together a team of logistics experts, climbers, fellow scientists, and documentary filmmakers to access this very remote location.

Satellite view of Mount Lico.
Satellite view of Mount Lico. Acquired on March 15, 2020. ©Planet Labs, Inc. CC BY 4.0.

His interest in using Google Earth to find these hidden gems has gone back nearly two decades.

When scanning the region, the forest appeared as a dark crater in an otherwise deforested area. Bayliss didn’t know if this area would prove to be a woodland area or a true rainforest, and began sending out bits of information about his find to friends and fellow scientists.

Through his past expeditions, he began putting together a team of people with the necessary knowledge to make this trek possible.

Mount Lico

Together the team of rock climbers, filmmakers, scientists, botanists, and locals began the challenging task of summiting Mount Lido.

The climbers coached the others on the best way to ascend the rock, and the locals helped Bayliss navigate cultural and linguistic situations, in addition to providing essential local knowledge of plants and animals.

The rainforest was located on top of a vertical rise of rock, which meant its resources hadn’t been used up by the people living around the mountain.

Bayliss hoped to be able to find a kind of time capsule in this forest that could help document the effects of global climate change, discover new or rare species, and step where no man had stepped before.

Discoveries of New Species

The team set up a base camp between Mount Lico and Mount Socone, in addition to camps atop both mountains.

From that vantage point the team could collect data samples, examine the flora and fauna of all three places, and begin to explore just how Mount Lico was different from the more developed countryside around it.

The team found a new species of butterfly and collected samples of other DNA, some of which may prove to be a new species. They found catfish in a stream as well as antelope who had made their home on top of Mount Lico. The team was also amazed to find that the forest had deep ground soil, which is unusual for mountaintops.

Although they were certainly the most recent to stand on the summit of Mount Lico, Bayliss’s team was not the first. The modern explorers found three handmade clay pots near one of the water sources on the mountain’s summit, with little to no conclusive evidence as to who had left them there.

Watch: The Lost Forest of Mount Mabu

Google profiled the work of Julian Bayliss in 2013 to show how he has used Google’s imagery to find hidden forests in Mozambique.  (Bayliss, J., Timberlake, J., Branch, W., Bruessow, C., Collins, S., Congdon, C., … & Fishpool, L. (2014). The discovery, biodiversity and conservation of Mabu forest—the largest medium-altitude rainforest in southern Africa. Oryx, 48(2), 177-185.)

YouTube video


Julian Bayliss website –

Wright, Andy; Kehrt, Sonny. 28 August, 2018. The Secret Garden. The Verge. Retrieved from


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.