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Rondonia, Brazil. Image courtesy of NASA based on ASTER data. 

Since 1970, over half a million square kilometers of the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, have been lost through deforestation. Clearings have been made for cattle grazing, colonization, agriculture, infrastructure expansion and logging. 

Nine nations have territories within this great rain forest, with the majority, about 70 percent, being contained in Brazil. The satellite image above shows large tracks of deforestation in Rondonia, Brazil. Controlling deforestation in the region has been an important international issue as many look at rain forests as the lungs of the planet because of vegetation's role in pulling carbon from the atmosphere.

Dr. Philip M. Fearnside of the National Institute for Research in the Amazon says that deforestation continues at a fast rate and that if it continues for as little as 20 years more, the results could be disastrous. He suggests that it is up to society to determine how to deal with this issue and that the decisions made now will have major implications for the future.

These decisions will come from carefully considering how to best make use of this renewable resource. Key questions to consider include: How renewable is the rain forest, or any forest? If we cut down the rain forest, can it grow back? If so, how long will it take?

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