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There's no single culprit responsible for deforestation: around the world, forest cover is lost because of fires, disease, logging, clear-cutting, and myriad other factors. And the environmental consequences threaten to be severe, especially given that deforestation causes an estimated 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

And before experts can effectively mitigate the problem, they need to know where it's happening — and to what extent. Now, a collaborative effort led by the University of Maryland (and including both Google and NASA) has created the first-ever high-resolution map that tracks forest gains and losses over time. Described this week in the journal Science, the map's creation depended on more than a decade of satellite imagery provided by Landsat — a satellite program operated by the US Geological Survey to capture and store images of Earth — combined with the processing prowess of Google Earth Engine.

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The satellite images of Joplin, Mo., that are available on Google Maps were taken within the last year, after the devastating tornado of May 22, 2011, that killed more than 160 people. Buildings across the city appear as matchsticks in those aerial views, which have been preserved by the Internet as the picture of Joplin.

But when photographer Greg Miller arrived in Joplin to photograph the city in the days leading up to the tornado’s one-year anniversary, it looked like everything had been fixed. “I had to ask somebody where the damage was,” he says. Miller, who says that Joplin is much larger than he expected and eventually drove out to the areas that are still putting themselves back together. “I realized that not by a long shot has everything been rebuilt.”

For one thing: there are no trees. That was, Miller says, the most dramatic evidence of the destruction. “They had tons of trees in that area and now the trees are either gone or stripped of their leaves,” he says.

It was in a cemetery that the extent of the damage really hit home for the photographer. He figured there were other priorities in the town and no way the people would take the time to right any monuments that had been knocked over—but, even as he thought that, he stumbled upon some men in the process of fixing the place up. “The guys were trying to figure out where the tombstones went. A 500-lb. tombstone, this piece of solid granite, had been tossed maybe 20 feet away,” he says. “Cars, much bigger than 500 lbs., were moved around too; maybe I’m a little numb to the pictures of cars. Seeing that stone…I thought, wow, that must been really a strong wind.”

It wasn’t just a reminder of the strength of the tornado itself. It was also a reminder of the strength of the people. After all, he didn’t actually see cars still piled up in the streets of Joplin. And some people, like a woman thankful for her Habitat for Humanity house who Miller met when photographing her two children waiting at the bus stop, managed to see a silver lining.

And that attitude fit with Miller’s photographic goals. There were still piles of debris, he says, and still empty foundations. There were sad moments to photograph, evidence of loss. But, for one thing, Miller felt like there were so many pictures of that destruction that there was no point making another. And for another, that felt like the old Joplin, the satellite-picture Joplin, not the Joplin of today.

“Definitely there was an upbeat mood in the town. Because of the anniversary, they don’t go to that dark place. They’re staying in this place of like, look, we’re going to make this happen,” he says. “One person I spoke to said it wiped Joplin off the map and then put it on the map.”

Greg Miller is a photographer based in New York City. See more of his work here.

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As the murky water rose and moved towards the capital it was obvious the scale of this year's floods would be something very few expected. The land of smiles turned into the land of worry, then anger.

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Updated 12:47 pm EDT.

The Syrian navy is a pissant, 4th-rate force, incapable of even slowing down any half-decent fleet. A foe would have to be virtually unarmed for Syria’s rusting warships to threaten it. Which means the fleet still does have some purpose for the Assad regime: terrorizing its own people.

On Sunday, just before dawn, Syrian warships joined tanks and paramilitary forces in an assault on the seaside town of Latakia. At least 25 people were killed.

“The offensive started at 5 a.m. and has not ceased for a second,” one activist told the Los Angeles Times. “The gunfire is so arbitrary. Entire buildings are being shelled with heavy artillery. The bodies stay on the streets because we are unable to leave our home and get them… The smell of death is around us.”

In May, NATO sank eight of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s warships, as part of its campaign there to defang (and, ultimately, dethrone) the regime in Tripoli. The Western response to the ongoing repression in Syria has been relatively muted, in contrast, offering little more than a “crescendo of condemnation,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it. But the Syrian government’s use of heavy weaponry may change things, the Times notes, just as attacks by Libyan warplanes and gunboats prompted NATO to intervene. The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss Syria this week.

The Syrian navy has “progressively eroded over the years, reflecting the country’s poor economic situation and the limited funding allocated to maritime forces,” according to Jane’s World Navies. Syria has a single working frigate, a Petya III-class ship produced by the Soviets in the mid-1970s that’s “obsolete and nearly non-operational.” Damascus also has sixteen Osa-class missile boats that “lack advanced technology and their armament is quite old.”

These aging missiles may have just been fired inwards. Osas were the kind of ships that Gadhafi used to attack protesters earlier this year. At least half a dozen of them are based in Latakia. So they might have been used to strike Syria’s activists, as well.

The ships’ lack of tech may have made their attacks even more terrifying, says Matthew Gillis of Canada’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. “Since WWII, accurate naval gunfire support has become sort of a specialized capability which I wouldn’t bet the Syrian navy really possesses,” he e-mails Danger Room. “The disturbing thing about this is that delivering precise, indirect fire against large mobs of protesters would be reprehensible by itself. But [the] naval attacks probably constituted gunboats literally sailing up and down the shore firing indiscriminately and arbitrarily at whatever people and structures happen to be there.”

The Syrian fleet is not entirely ancient. Iran supplied the regime with a half-dozen Tir-class torpedo boats in 2006. Fast and lightly armed, they’re designed to swarm and harass ships that approach their shores. (Iran has also reportedly agreed to pay $23 million and station troops at Latakia’s airport, to coordinate further arms shipments.)

But Syria’s best naval defense may be that it has a well-armed, politically-connected friend close by. The Russian navy maintains a base in the Syrian port of Tartus (that picture of it, above, is taken from this slideshow of satellite images). Russia has not only supplied the base with modern, supersonic-capable Yakhont anti-ship missiles. But any attack on Syrian ships harbored at Tartus risks hitting Russian vessels, too. Which is its own form of defense.

Unfortunately, Syria’s people don’t have that same kind of protection.

Photo: Google Earth

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