A new early warning system using satellite data to sound the alarm on growing threats to the world’s tropical forests, including worsening drought and logging, aims to stop them reaching a point of no return, scientists said on Friday.

Backed by the National Geographic Society and Swiss watch manufacturer Rolex, almost 60 international scientists devised the system to track rising dangers to the planet’s rainforests, which are vital for protecting the climate and nature.

The vulnerability of rainforests is much larger than predicted in the past, they found, warning areas that are disturbed or fragmented have almost no resilience to climate warming and drought.

Their work also suggested rainforests are losing their capacity to cycle carbon and water - essential functions to regulate the climate, both globally and locally.

The new tropical forest vulnerability index (TFVI) tracks and analyses the impact of changes in the climate and the use of land — such as clearing it for farming — on local forests, as well as how they are responding to such stress factors.

The early warning system is intended to alert policymakers and conservationists of threats in good time, so they can take action to protect forests.

“It’s an index that tells us ‘if you don’t do anything, that area is going to be devastated’,” said Sassan Saatchi, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

“If the rainforest changes, we might completely change the climate of the earth — it is like the canary in the climate-change goldmine,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Conserving and restoring carbon-rich rainforests are vital tools to help the world meet its planet-heating emissions goals.

Read the full article about protecting rainforests from Thomson Reuters Foundation at Eco-business.