An online map that tracks in near real-time the vegetation area of all the world's forests simultaneously will launch later this year, after a preview was shown at a United Nations summit yesterday. Called "Global Forest Watch 2.0," the map is a project years in the making led by the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on ecological issues. They designed the map to help monitor and stop illegal forest clearing and deforestation by loggers and ranchers around the globe. "Deforestation continues today in part because by the time satellite images are available, analyzed, and shared, the forest clearing is long done," the group notes on its website.

"could not come at a more critical moment."

Global Forest Watch 2.0 relies on a combination of data points to achieve this feat, including imagery captured by NASA's recently launched earth-gazing Landsat 8 satellite and a Brazilian system for monitoring the Amazon rainforest that analyzes each pixel of satellite data for minute changes. The platform also uses Google Earth Engine and will offer "simple web interfaces" encouraging users to submit their own data. Until the product officially launches, the best view of what it will look like comes from a prototype developed by Vizzuality, another mapping firm. We've reached out to the World Resources Institute for a precise launch date, but for the UN, it can't come soon enough. "The Global Forest Watch 2.0, that will be launched next month, could not come at a more critical moment," said UN official Wu Hongbo in a statement.

Update: A spokesperson for the World Resources Institute said that the map won't actually launch until "later this year," not next month as stated in an earlier release. The timeline for an exact launch date within 2013 hasn't been specified yet, because the World Resources Institute is waiting on a new data set encompassing more of the world's non-tropical forests, which is in the process of being peer-reviewed right now. That process could take up to several months to be completed and added to the existing dataset of tropical forests.