A team of citizen scientists helped create a super-accurate map of global forest cover, allowing researchers to gain insight into deforestation and the effects of climate change.
There are currently a number of sources of data on forests, including satellite imagery, but much of these data disagree with each other, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis reported. These new findings could help clear up some of the confusion.
"The new maps rely on a combination of recent multisensory remote sensing data, statistics, and crowdsourcing," said Dmitry Schepaschenko, the lead author of the study. "By combining different data sources, and incorporating the input of trained citizen scientists, we were able to produce new maps that are more accurate than any existing data source."
The new study introduces two new global forest maps that help create a compromise between existing data on the subject. The first is a "best-guess" map that uses eight different data sources and relies on a network of citizen scientists double-check the classification of land cover by looking at high-resolution satellite imagery of different locations.
The second map was calibrated using regional and country-level forest statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The map is the first to prove consistent with FAO statistics, a comparison between these two maps also calls to attention countries containing the most dramatic data discrepancies.
The maps were created from data from the year 2000 as a baseline, but the researchers plan to update them with data from 2010 in the near future. The new global forest maps are predicted to be useful for policymakers who turn to forest data to make planning decisions as well as climate and environmental researchers.
"These new maps just go to show that regular people, in their free time, can contribute to top quality research," Schepaschenko concluded.
The maps can be downloaded on the Geo-Wiki Web site .