Some of the highest rates of deforestation of tropical rainforests have been observed in the Amazon Basin of South America. In this photograph of the state of Rondonia, Brazil, the massive scale of deforestation is evident. The dark green areas are tropical rainforest and the bright white feature on the right is a cloud. In the center of the scene, fishbone-like clearings of light green angular lines extend over 400 kilometers. Development in this area began along major transport routes such as rivers and roads (brighter lines). Secondary roads were then extended into the forest perpendicular to the main routes, but parallel to one another. The clearing of land proceeded outward from these roads (see slide #21 for close-up view). Cities eventually developed at various intersection points and are visible as bright spots. This overall pattern contrasts with the older deforestation pattern of large rectangular cleared fields (top right). Two individual smoke plumes in the lower portion of the photograph attest to active deforestation. Although forest conversion only began in the 1970s, by 1988 more than 17% of the state of Rondonia had been deforested.
July–August 1992, image STS-46-80-36.