efe-epaBy Gonzalo Sánchez Milan (Italy)

Pictures of the Latin American rainforest taken from space suggest that efforts to tackle deforestation have proven fruitful as the so-called lungs of the earth seem to be slowly recovering, the European Space Agency told Efe Tuesday.

As ESA prepares to launch a satellite that will serve the sole purpose of monitoring the Amazon rainforest, recent images suggest that reforestation drives implemented by governments in the region are improving the state of decline the area has experienced due to farming on a huge scale.

"The evolution (of deforestation in South America) had experienced very important and negative situations in past years, for example in Brazil, but today it is improving thanks to the huge efforts of governments," Simonetta Cheli, ESA's Earth observation head of strategy, programme and coordination office told Efe.

Cheli is of the opinion that some countries in the region "implement important reforestation activities but also of containment," of the alarming destruction of their forests.

"This can be seen from the satellite," the expert said on occasion of the Living Planet Symposium in Milan, in northern Italy.

The international forum sees experts, scientists and students meet every three years to assess the state of the planet.

Satellites observing the Earth pay special attention to the Latin American region, which encounters several geological phenomena such as seismic activity and volcanic eruptions, as well as environmental challenges which include deforestation and the melting of its age-old glaciers.

With regards to deforestation, Cheli believes more needs to be done on a global scale, but that this is not something ESA can aspire to do as it acts as a data collection agency through compiling an image bank of photos, amongst other things, that its satellites are able to capture.

The rainforest is often covered in a dense fog, but ESA's power radars are able to see through it.

The Space Agency has developed a special satellite called "Biomass" which is expected to launch sometime in 2022 and will focus exclusively on compiling data about the Earth's forests.

The melting of ice caps and glaciers in Latin America is also a big concern.

An international team of experts suggests some 9 billion tonnes of ice have melted between 1961 and 2016 which has to lead to 27-millimeter rise in sea levels worldwide.

The largest losses took place in Alaska, followed by Greenland and the glaciers in the southern Andes mountain chain which runs down western Latin America for 7,000 km (4,300 miles).

Also of interest for ESA is the monitoring of Europe, where it is estimated some 400,000 people die every year due to diseases related to pollution, Cheli added quoting a report by the European Environment Agency.

ESA is hoping to apply for further funding at the forthcoming ministerial meeting in Spain next Nov. in order to launch new satellites and increase its space exploration capacity.

Amongst the new cutting edge projects within the programme is the development of a space mission that would analyze carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, Cheli said.

"We plan to launch new missions such as one dedicated to monitoring CO2 and emissions in forthcoming years and we will request funding for this in November at an ESA ministerial meeting in Sevilla (southern Spain)," the expert continued.

Scientists are deeply concerned about the quality of air in large cities where local governments have started to implement restrictions on traffic in the city centers of Rome, Madrid, Paris or Berlin.

The Sentinel 5P satellite, which forms part of the ambitious Copernico programme, provides important data that allows us to understand the factors that affect the air Europeans are breathing in.

However, studies are limited to analyzing nitrogen dioxide o methane, the expert added.

The data has been used to create maps that highlight particularly polluted areas in red, such as industrial hubs in Belgium, The Netherlands, southern England and areas in Germany and Italy.

All data collected by ESA suggests that the Earth faces a worrying moment which warrants an increase in funding for observation programs in order to create informed action plans, the Italian expert concluded.EFE-EPA

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