Disappearing Forests Google Earth Visualizations

Deforestation in Google EarthAn excellent set of 3D visualizations has been added to the Google Earth Outreach Showcase. The visualizations show the state of forests around the world by country. The world has lost close to half of its forests already today, and the continued high pace of deforestation contributes greatly to climate change and the loss of biodiversity. When you first load the Disappearing Forests KML , you will see deforestation rate by area. Red indicates a decline in forests, and the scale indicates the number of hectares changed in the last year. Each country has a placemark which provides very interesting details on the state of the forests. You can also choose from a list of other forest maps in the Places pane under the folder called “Country deforestation data”.
The KML was developed by David Tryse who also was involved with the Edge of Existence collections highlighted earlier this year in an Outreach Case Study. David used data from the World Resources Institute (WRI): The Last Frontier Forests: Ecosystems and Economies on the Edge (1997), Greenpeace: The Worlds Last Intact Forest Landscapes (2006), and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: Global Forest Resources Assessment (2005). David used the following tools: PHP(+Ming for flash counter) & MySQL: XAMPP, World Borders Dataset (+chartAPI-icon idea): thematicmapping.
This deforestation visualization is really an excellent example of putting Google Earth KML to work. The graph type used is called a prism map and has been used in many KML files (see list below). Recently a tool Thematic Mapping Engine has been developed by Bjorn Sandvik to make it easy to create your own prism maps for Google Earth (as well as other map types like choropleths and proportional symbols).
Here are some other examples of prism maps done for Google Earth:

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. This project represents a lot of work and it is a good topic to produce in Google Earth as you need a global view to get the whole story. I also like the circle symbols, they illustrate the data well and automated ways of producing those is a useful tool for us all.
    However, overall I think this project is an example where technology has been overused. Prism maps in Google Earth have major disadvantages as I outlined here http://googleearthdesign.blogspot.com/2008/05/3d-rears-its-ugly-head-again.html
    IMHO a 2D color coded world map is easier to produce and works as a better way to show the data. Another problem I have is the lack of a visible key – you shouldn’t have to open a placemark to find out what the color segments represent.
    That being said I did like the time animation of the Brazilian deforestation, you get a sense of the acceleration of the problem very well.

  2. Johan Louwers says

    Very very nice looking… showing the power of what you can do with data and google earth and also giving a great insight in the problems of deorestation.
    Johan Louwers.

  3. hello Rich,
    while 2d has its place, in no way does it show varience within classes and without a ledgend the map is useless for comparing values. In an instant a viewer can grasp broader levels of change in 3d that are not possible through 2d maps. In 3d without a legend one is able to gain relative differences. What i like most of a 3d map is the amount of data I can extract from a glimpse and its ability to alter perception. For example red > 100,000,000 acres, yellow > 100,000 acres does not compare to a 3d column representation. In 3d it’s, wow! look at the difference in acreage.

  4. It is a very nice looking visualisation. It would need to get a lot of attention to be fully useful.

  5. Many thanks for your comments.
    Rich, your point about a key is very good – I have added in a small overlay legend for the colours now (updated version in the showcase).

  6. David Gaveau says

    Dear David,
    I admire your pioneering work. In the future, we would like to put fine-scale maps of deforestation in animated sequence, a bit like your sequence over the amazon, but in much higher resolution.
    I have recently produced a detailed map of deforestation for the island of Sumatra, using landsat satellite data. This work will soon be published in a scientific publication. However, I would like the maps to be accessed by all, to show the world how fast these forests have been receding.
    My map is currently in raster format it has a spatial resolution of 30 by 30 metres, but it is 2 gigabytes. I was wondering whether you would like to incorporate these data on google earth. I have only recently come across kml technology, and so am unable to do this myself, hence looking for a partner. would you be interested?
    David Gaveau, landscape ecologist, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, university of Kent, UK.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.