Sumatran Forest

Header Image of Sumatran Forest

A picture is worth a thousand words. This website puts precise maps of deforestation over Sumatra, the sixth largest island on Earth freely at your fingertips using Google Earth.

Free and easy access to environmental information is an act of transparency, a crucial element of democracy. In a 1998 speech, then US vice president Al Gore called for an undertaking to build a computing system that would put the full range of geographic data about our planet at our fingertips [1,2]. He coined this vision 'Digital Earth'. Precise maps of tropical deforestation are among the most inspiring applications of 'Digital Earth' to inform decision makers and the general public.

Surprisingly, despite many years of research, such maps are generally not available outside of the scientific community.

The Indonesian government recently passed a Freedom of Information Act to disclose environmental information to the general public. But, its efforts to conserve Indonesia's forests have been undermined by a lack of reliable information on their status and on the threats they faced [3]. The Indonesian government announced a landmark agreement with the NGOs at the October 2008 Barcelona IUCN World Conservation Congress to reduce tropical deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia's second largest island [4]. Sumatra, is the only place on Earth where all the animal characters of Walt Disney's animation feature film the 'Jungle Book' co-exist, including tigers, elephants, leopards, pythons, bears and orangutans. Sumatran deforestation has recently become a global issue because it accelerates climate change [5,6]. The lack of free and easy access to reliable maps of Sumatran forests limits Indonesia's effort to protect this natural heritage.


Many advances have been made in key functionality aspects of 'Digital Earth'. The most prominent advance is Google Earth's virtual globe. Google Earth is free, it is fast, it has its own markup language (KML), which allows anyone to display and easily share their own data, and it is by all accounts fun [2]. is an independent website that puts precise maps of tropical deforestation over Sumatra freely at your fingertips using Google Earth and KML. The Maps will unfold onto Google’s digital Earth in full resolution (up to 1:150,000 scale) by simply activating the links in the menu 'data'. You will obtain a bird’s-eye view of Sumatran forest landscapes, and the threats they are facing inside and outside the protected areas. The maps you are about to see are property of Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program (WCS-IP) and Conservation International (CI), but these organizations have made these data freely available to anyone, electronically to improve environmental governance in Indonesia [7].

Now, is the time to present this information onto Google Earth's virtual globe to support the Indonesian government in its mission to inform the general public and decision makers about the true scale of environmental destruction is this part of the World.


1. Gore A (1998) The digital Earth: Understanding our planet in the 21st Century.  Accessed October 2008
2. Grossner KE, Goodchild MF, Clarke KC (2008) Defining a digital Earth system. Transactions in GIS 12: 145-160.
3. (2006) Transparency and disclosure of forest sector information.  Accessed October 2008
4. WWF (2008) Ministers, governors commit to saving Sumatra. Accessed October 2008
5. Page SE, Siegert F, Rieley JO, Boehm HDV, Jaya A, et al. (2002) The amount of carbon released from peat and forest fires in Indonesia during 1997. Nature 420: 61-65.
6. Uryu Y, Mott C, Foead N, Yulianto K, Budiman A, et al. (2008) Deforestation, forest degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions in Riau, Sumatra, Indonesia. WWF Indonesia Technical Report, Jakarta, Indonesia.
7. Gaveau DLA, Adnan B, Epting J, Kumara I, Suyikno B, et al. (2007) Deforestation map (1990-2000) of Sumatra and Siberut at 150,000 scale. Interactive CD-ROM, Bogor, Indonesia Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program, Conservation International&Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation, Bogor, Indonesia.