The world’s changed a lot over the last quarter century. In fact, 22 percent of our planet’s livable surface has changed dramatically between the years 1992 and 2015, according to a new study published Monday.
The study, published in the International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, used satellite data from the European Space Agency to map out the environmental ruin humans have inflicted on Earth.
The team from the University of Cincinnati organized the satellite images into squares roughly five miles large that looked for various land use changes including agriculture, water changes, forest loss and growth, and development. Unsurprisingly, we’ve been prioritizing farmland over forest—especially throughout Latin America.
The maps created for this study clearly show an overall loss of trees in South America, as well as a hotspot of forest loss centered in northern Guatemala. Co-author Tomasz Stepinski, a professor of geography, links this deforestation to the growing migrant crisis stemming from this area, noting that drought isn’t all that’s fueling the influx of migrants like those traveling in the so-called caravan. While drought certainly plays a role in this region, so does deforestation, per the study.
“They’ve lost the forest because people use wood for fuel,” Stepinski said in a press release. “It’s one part of the refugee crisis.”
Deforestation is also stark across the Amazon Rainforest. But that’s just one story hidden within the maps’ swirls of purples, yellows, and greens. Take a look at the U.S.: Wetlands are disappearing in the southeast, and urban sprawl is taking over. In North Africa, a loss of grassland is being accompanied by growth of the Sahara Desert. Urbanization has taken over eastern China. Agricultural production is increasing throughout the Middle East.
All this change has happened within a lifetime, a reality Stepinski found “depressing.” Equally depressing is that while some of this is a direct result of human actions—like cutting down trees—some changes are a result of our changing climate, which we’ve caused but have little control over.
Imagine what’s to come.