Unprecedented MapBiomas Amazônia survey: loss of vegetation cover in 36 years is equivalent to one Chile

Experts warn that the Amazon could reach its breaking point within this decade if the pace of destruction continues

Between 1985 and 2020, the Amazon lost 52% of its glaciers and 74.6 million hectares of its natural vegetation cover - an area equivalent to the territory of Chile. In the same period there was a 656% growth in mining, 130% in urban infrastructure, and 151% in agriculture and cattle ranching. These are some of the main conclusions of an unprecedented mapping of MapBiomas Amazônia that was presented in a webinar on September 30th. The Collection 3.0 of Annual Maps of Land Cover and Use of the Amazon incorporates the entire biome, from the Andes, through the Amazon plains and reaching the transitions with the Cerrado and the Pantanal. 

The temporal mapping of land use and land cover in the biome showed that if in 1985 only 6% of the Amazon had been converted into anthropic areas, such as pastures, agriculture, mining or urban areas, by 2020 this percentage had almost tripled, reaching 15% of the entire region. The process varies considerably between countries, with only 1% for Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana, and at the other extreme, 19% in Brazil. Recent studies suggest that the loss of 20-25% of Amazonian forest cover may signify the 'tipping point' (breaking point) for Amazonian ecosystem services. If the current trend verified by MapBiomas continues, this turning point could be reached later this decade.

Generated by technicians and specialists from each of the countries that make up the Amazon from satellite images, this third data collection includes new use classes, such as mining and urban infrastructure, as well as maps and data on the drivers of pressure on forests and other land covers, such as mining concessions, oil blocks, roads and hydroelectric plants. The goal is to contribute to the knowledge of the current situation of the Amazon region in an integral way - both of land use changes throughout the Amazon and of the pressures on its forests and natural ecosystems.

"Reconstructing the history of our Amazon by looking at the changes year by year in its natural covers, identifying losses of such important covers as glaciers and forests in general, helps us build and propose more precise conservation strategies," highlights Beto Ricardo, RAISG's general coordinator.  "MapBiomas Amazônia Collection 3.0 shows a deep and rapid anthropization underway in the region," says Tasso Azevedo, MapBiomas general coordinator. "In the current MapBiomas mappings across South America this is a striking pattern. The data is invaluable for understanding the dynamics of natural resource use in the region, as well as contributing to climate modeling and the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions and removals due to land use and change in the region," he adds.


MapBiomas Amazônia is an initiative led by the Amazon Network for Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information (RAISG) with support from MapBiomas. In 2019, it launched the First Collection, covering the period 2000-2017; in 2020, the Second Collection, covering 1985-2018. Now, after intense work by (RAISG) members and technical collaboration from the MapBiomas Brasil team, the Third Collection covers the 36 years between 1985 and 2020: http://amazonia.mapbiomas.org

The land use mapping tool was developed by MapBiomas to be applied initially in Brazil. For the entire Amazon biome, it was improved with the contribution of RAISG member organizations to adapt the results and analysis to the geography of each of the countries.  In particular, it was necessary to take into account the altitudinal variations typical of the Andean Amazon. Currently, the MapBiomas mapping tool includes 28 classes, ranging from Andean glaciers to forest formations on the Amazonian plains.


RAISG is the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information, a consortium of civil society organizations from Amazonian countries focused on the socio-environmental sustainability of the Amazon, with the support of international cooperation. RAISG generates and disseminates knowledge, statistical data and geospatial socio-environmental information on the Amazon, elaborated with common protocols for all the countries in the region; it has made it possible to visualize the Amazon as a whole, as well as the threats and pressures that hang over it. RAISG is the result of the cooperation of eight civil society organizations that operate in six Amazon countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/pt-br/


MapBiomas is a multi-institutional initiative that brings together universities, NGOs and technology companies that have come together to contribute to the understanding of the transformations of the Brazilian territory through the annual mapping of land use and land cover in Brazil. In August 2021, Collection 6 of MapBiomas was published with maps of land cover and land use in Brazil from 1985 to 2020. The tool developed by MapBiomas for all its initiatives provides information generated at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. The data is processed using automatic classification algorithms by means of information in the Google Earth Engine cloud.

Access the main highlights of Panamazonia here.

Watch the data presentation event.