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Discovery of “hidden forests” adds to global forest area

In the media
Press release

Scientists have shown there is at least 9% more forest cover across the globe than was previously assumed.

By using very high resolution satellite imagery available through the Google Earth, they found an additional 467 million hectares of forest in the world’s drylands – arid areas that cover 42% of the Earth’s land surface.

A group of researchers at Leeds led by Dr Alan Grainger was part of an international team headed by Dr Danilo Mollicone of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. Their findings are published in Science.

Dr Grainger, from Leeds’ School of Geography, said: “According to our measurements, in 2015 there were 1,079 million hectares of forest in the world’s drylands. This is more than 40% larger than estimated previously, and means the combined area of dry forest is very similar to the area of the more famous tropical moist forest found in such areas as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin.”

The project required painstaking measurement of forest and tree cover in more than 210,000 sample plots by a large international team of 239 researchers across 15 research institutions. Leeds was among five of the institutions to involve its students in the analysis, with 22 students from first year undergraduates to research postgraduates taking part, coordinated by Nikée Groot.

Dr Grainger added: “At Leeds we are totally dedicated to integrating our research into our teaching. I’ve never heard of a university involving its students in an international research project of this scale before.”

The study, which may help scientists refine models of carbon dioxide uptake from the Earth’s trees, makes the cover of Science and is also covered in a news story by Patrick Monaghan.

Read the full University of Leeds press release here.

Image:  Baobab forest in Senegal during the dry season. Credit: FAO/Faidutti