Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How Google Earth Led to the Discovery of a Long-Lost Forest


The age of exploration is usually said to have ended in the late 1600s, when European settlements had been established on most of the world’s continents and the search for new trade routes was pretty much over. But that doesn’t mean the globe was fully mapped, not by a long ways. In 2005, for example, a biologist at London’s Kew Gardens discovered a brand new rainforest. And he didn’t find it on our Earth. He found it on Google Earth. 

Julian Bayliss, a British scientist specializing in plant conservation, was browsing for possible African rainforest sites on Google Earth when he stumbled on aerial photographs of Mount Mabu, a lush peak rising above the savannah of central Mozambique. He was surprised to find 27 square miles of medium-altitude rainforest—the largest in Africa—that, to his knowledge, no one had ever studied.

How could a whole rainforest hide in plain sight for so long? Locals in the area knew about Mount Mabu, of course, but the combination of a lack of roads in the area and a long-running civil war had kept outsiders away. Mount Mabu—the “Google Forest,” as it came to be called—had never been logged. It had never even been mapped.

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