Updated: Apr 30
The map I created is called Deforestation Monitor. I'm posting this as a blog because I think the educational tool ArcGIS by esri is very intuitive and highly relevant to the topic of e-learning and using technology in the classroom. The focus of my first map is on Brazil, because Brazil has been one of the hardest-hit when it comes to deforestation. In my mind, Deforestation Monitor would expand to mapping many other parts of the world that suffer from deforestation. There are several reasons why it’d be valuable information to know where trees are being illegally cleared. For example, a scenario in which Deforestation Monitor could be useful is when companies that run illegal logging, ranching, or mining operations have encroached on indigenous lands.
Conservationists with access to technology compatible with ArcGIS can work with indigenous tribes in the Amazon to protect their forests by reporting illegal environmental degradation. With outside help, tribes like the Kayapo and Tembe defend their lands against ranchers, loggers, and miners. An article published in National Geographic in 2013 by Barbara Zimmerman describes how satellite imagery has helped the Kayapo fight and win official recognition of their lands in the 1980s and 1990s. Some Amazonian tribes have formed alliances with environmental indigenous-rights organizations, which have helped them to form their own nongovernmental organizations, enabling them to enlist in further outside backing. One specific example in which ArcGIS maps could have been used to help tribesmen is when there were overflights of Kayapo territory, funded by NGOs that spotted gold miners in a remote area. After government inaction, the outside partners equipped a Kayapo expedition with boats, motors, fuel, GPS, and radio. In July 2013, several dozen Kayapo traveled more than 124 miles by boat and foot to strike at the illegal mining camps. They destroyed the mining equipment and pressured the government to send helicopters to take the captured miners away to prison. NGO programs dedicated to protecting the Amazon and indigenous rights are extremely important. More outside assistance and deeper alliances with the indigenous tribes of the Amazon are urgently needed.
The intended audience for this map is anyone who is concerned about deforestation and/or indigenous rights. From citizens of an affected region, NGOs, government policy makers, or community activists, people from all walks of life can use this map to learn about and report deforestation. Deforestation Monitor seeks to provide the timeliest and most precise information about the status of forest landscapes worldwide, including near-real-time alerts showing suspected locations of recent tree loss. Users can contribute to Deforestation Monitor by sharing data and stories from the ground via crowdsourcing tools. Deforestation Monitor serves a variety of users including governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, universities, and the general public.
The mapping approach I used was a story map with different tabbed pages, built using the ArcGIS by Esri Story Map template. To create my project I used various layers from the ArcGIS database to show the indigenous lands in the Amazon Basin, and additional data was from the outside sources cited in the story map. Incoming reports would be validated using a system of checks against Google Earth satellite data that would clearly show areas of slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques. Double-checking the data against live video imagery is the best way to conduct this business half a world away.
Some of the greatest challenges I faced were trying to find updated data, and figuring out what to map. Beginning this project was more difficult than any of the homework assignments because it had to be an ongoing issue, which means researching current events and being aware of practical mapping applications. Deciding what map to build is probably the hardest part of a project like this one just because there are endless possibilities. My original plan was to map climate refugee areas but this is an example of an ongoing issue that is difficult to map since it happens quite slowly. Finding updated data from 2015-2016 was a challenge, but I made sure to use the newest data available. Another challenge I can think of was the placement of individual markers or “pins” for locations of deforestation because there are so many sites. The way I worked around this is I used shaded areas for my main map. Using shaded areas had the effect of generalizing the data a bit, but it got the job done.
I originally intended to make a map set about climate refugees and the locations of natural disasters, but I soon realized that this was going to be hard and slow going to map. Climate change is upon us but the effects are only seen every so often. The drastic effects that climate change will have on our planet take hundreds of years to come to fruition. I could tell that I’d needed more data points than the few natural disasters correlated with climate change that have occurred. The conclusion I made was that I needed an environmental issue that had abundant data points to map and examine. Deforestation is connected to climate change by the fact that living organisms like trees need carbon for photosynthesis and they breathe out oxygen for us to breathe in. The fewer trees, the less carbon that is filtered out of the atmosphere and the less oxygen created for us to breathe. Deforestation occurring in the Amazon Basin in Brazil has been an urgent policy matter for decades but the Brazilian government has done little to prevent illegal activities from entering the area. I thought that this would be an interesting and relevant issue to study in my project and to map in ArcGIS.
The greatest success in this project for me was feeling the accomplishment of teaching myself software that could potentially change lives. Mapping is becoming integral to the society we live in because globalization has made it faster than ever to access information. I feel satisfied having learned a new program and created an interactive platform for users to monitor deforestation. Another success was that I gained a feeling of empowerment in knowing that I could have a meaningful impact on things around the world. Technology allows people like those tribes in the Amazon to interact with powerful policy makers. Regular citizens like me can help in small ways by creating technological platforms such as Deforestation Monitor to communicate with governments and to encourage communities to fight illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers.
The feedback I received from people outside of the course was mostly positive. My sister didn’t understand how people would contribute to the project and I explained that it’s a little like Wikipedia in the sense that people can login and add to the map. One of my roommates thought that it was an impressive project and that it was good for raising awareness about deforestation in general. The other of my roommates had the suggestion that I should provide direct contact information for the NGOs working with the tribes so that people immediately know how to help. I think in the future I will add the contact information as suggested by my roommate because I agree that it’s important for people to have a quick-reference point of contact that can answer any additional questions that I am unable to. I think if I had the chance I would also add map tab that explicitly shows the legal and illegal deforestation that is currently happening, however, accurate and up-to-date data on the subject was somewhat hard to come by.
The two improvements in the mapping technology or data for my map that would have the best chance of making your map successful if used in a real-world scenario are a smartphone app of the Deforestation Monitor, and an interface that’s easily understood by a wide range of people from many different backgrounds. It’s necessary for people to have access to technology because in the society we live in it can be the difference between life and death. Preserving ecosystems that support the livelihoods of people around the world is now made a little easier with the assistance of technological platforms like Deforestation Monitor using ArcGIS mapping. My hope is that crowdsourced mapping will serve as a powerful tool that helps people realize their potential as contributors of pertinent information to a large-scale online network.
Zimmerman, Barbara. "Rain Forest Warriors: How Indigenous Tribes Protect the Amazon." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 23 Dec. 2013. Web. 02
July 2016. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131222-amazon-kayapo- indigenous-tribes-deforestation-environment-climate-rain-forest/>.