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Rainforest Deforestation

Just a few thousand years ago, tropical rainforests covered as much as 12% of the Earth’s land surface, or about 7 million mi2 (18 million km2), but today less than 7% of Earth’s land is covered with these forests (about 4 million mi2 or 10 milliom km 2). Since 1960, more than half of the world’s tropical rainforests have disappeared and the rate of destruction is still accelerating.

Tropical rainforests are disappearing rapidly as humans clear the natural landscape to make room for farms and pastures, to harvest timber for construction and fuel, and to build roads and urban areas.1 Commercial logging is one of the greatest causes of rainforest deforestation. Once the trees are removed, much of the rainforest property is converted into grazing land for livestock. Although deforestation meets some human needs, it can have devastating impacts, including extinction of plants and animals. Given that tropical rainforests contain 50% of the Earth’s species, the loss of tropical rainforest biodiversity is a real and immediate consequence.

More than 1 acre of rainforest is lost every second, more than 80,000 acres are lost every day, and 31 million acres (48,000 mi2) are lost every year. Massive deforestation brings with it dire consequences such as: pollution, soil erosion, release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and loss of biodiversity.

Watch the video below to learn more about deforestation in South America.


Rainforests are a type of forest characterized by high rainfall and year round growth.1They are one of the world’s most ancient ecosystems or groups of plants and animals and their habitat.7 Trees are a major component of the rainforest habitat, and can reach a height of 200 feet (61 meters) or more!1Rainforests can be found in temperate and tropical zones across the globe.

Temperate rainforests occur in mild climates all over the world. Many temperate rainforests occur in coastal areas where fog can deliver lots of moisture.1 In these rainforests, rainfall can reach up to 13.9 feet (4.2 meters) per year!2 The largest temperate rainforest in the world occurs along the Pacific coast of North America.1

Tropical rainforests occur near the equator between the Tropic of Cancer (23° N) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23° S).  These rainforests are found in Central and South America, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands and northern Australia. They cover less than 6% of the earth’s surface (about the size of the United States).6 4 The largest rainforest is the Amazon of Brazil, which lies in the Amazon River basin, the largest river basin in the world.5

Tropical rainforests can be dense, where rainfall is abundant year round; seasonally moist, where rainfall is abundant but seasonal; or drier and sparser like the rainforests of northern Australia.4 Precipitation can vary from 50 to 260 inches (125 to 660cm) a year and averages about 80 in per year.6Temperatures in the tropical rainforest stay between 68 and 93 degrees (20-34 degrees Celsius) and humidity is between 77 and 88%.6

Tropical rainforests are unique because, contain a high level of biodiversity and produce 20% of the worlds fresh water and oxygen. This vital resource is being destroyed every second. Learn more about deforestation and how to save a meter2
of the rainforest.

1 Waskev, Andrew J. “Rain Forests.” Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2007. 1463-65.
2Temperate RainforestsNational Park Service.
3“rainforest”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. 2012
4Lindsey, Rebecca. “Tropical Deforestation” NASA Earth Observatory. NASA, 30 Mar. 2007.
5”Amazon Rainforest”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. 2012
6 Kalipeni, Ezekiel. “Tropical Forests.” Encyclopedia of Environment and Society. Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2007. 1463-6
7Newman, Arnold. Tropical Rainforest: Our Most Valuable and Endangered Habitat with a Blueprint for Its Survival into the Third Millennium. New York, NY: Checkmark, 2002. Print