Amazonian and Cerrado Biomes in danger

May 13, 2019. 

Brazil - Spreading Soy plantations are a major threat to the rainforest and its habitats in the Amazonian and Cerrado (Brazilian savanna) areas. Both biomes are under risk of further losing forest cover to the expansion of agriculture. – albeit recent policy actions and commitments that aim at protecting standing forests.

For their research on the identification of such endangered areas of soy expansion and how infrastructure improvement could affect this expansion, a group of researchers around ZEF junior researcher Gabriel Frey and ZEF senior researcher Jan Börner now received the MapBiomas Award.

Using a machine learning approach, the researcher developed a model to predict soy expansion under the infrastructure in place in 2014 and scenarios of further infrastructure development.

Large areas are threatened

The data showed that large areas are threatened to be transformed: 14.7 million hectares have a high probability of being converted to soy farming, given the infrastructure conditions in 2014. Out of those, pastures represented 9.8 million hectares and forests 400.000 hectares. If future infrastructure scenarios simulated materialize, areas under high probability of soy expansion could increase up to 2.1 million hectares (or 14,6 %), roughly the size of Slovenia. Furthermore, these changes in infrastructure could lead to an increase of 51% of forest areas under high-risk of soy conversion and an increase of 11.4 % in pasture areas.

If these areas are converted to soybeans, at least 4.8 billion tons of CO2 could be released into the atmosphere, a value that represents 10 times the total CO2 emissions of Brazil in 2014. The results highlight the importance of targeting conservation policies and enforcement actions, including the Soy Moratorium, to mitigate future loss of forests associated with infrastructure improvements in the region.

“Conservation policies and enforcement actions should look more carefully into these areas and the processes that lead to the possible conversion of these areas into soybean farms, taking also into account infrastructure projects”, states Gabriel Frey.

To identify the areas, an algorithm chose the best mathematical model to predict soybean expansion risk based on and learning from the provided data. “This approach is widely used in ecology, and we brought it to this area of knowledge as a new tool to help in the efforts of forest conservation and policy-making”, Frey says.

Frey received the award in Brazil on behalf of his five colleagues. The award is endowed with 6000 Brazilian reais (around 1500 USD). “We were very surprised by the news and delighted by the recognition of our work”, tells Frey. “The colleagues and I are very pleased.”


Information on the MapBiomas Award

The Brazilian Annual Land Use and Land Cover Mapping Project (MapBiomas) is an initiative that involves a collaborative network of biome, land use, remote sensing, GIS and computer science experts that rely on the Google Earth Engine platform and its cloud processing and automated classifiers capabilities to generate Brazil’s annual land use and land cover time series.

To stimulate and expand more applications and work with analysis of land use change in Brazil, the initiative decided to launch the MapBiomas Award, in partnership with the Institute for Energy and Environment (IEMA) and Instituto Escolhas, with support from the Institute for Climate and Society (ICS).

In this first award, MapBiomas awarded works that explore the relationship between energy and transportation infrastructure and land use/cover changes in Brazil.


Gabriel Ponzoni Frey