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I want to try to get a handle on what's becoming of the world's rainforests right now but not seeming to find recent (i.e. around 2010) data.

The stuff here:

http://www.glcf.umd.edu/data/

as far as I can tell goes up to about 2006, but no further.

I am principally interested in the Amazon and Borneo rainforests.

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I did succeed in finding this:

http://www.vgt.vito.be/

...but I have no idea how to use the data therein. Examining the pixels of a given HDF gives me a bunch of integers without clearly defined semantics.

Look at this:

http://glcf.umiacs.umd.edu/data/treecover/

While it's from 2000, I can at least tell what the numbers mean; see heading "Code Values".

I also don't know the technical name of the "plate carrée" projection it's supposed to be in, so that I can project it properly in QGIS or GRASS.

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You may want to create a new question (referencing old question) about how to use this data type. –  artwork21 Dec 29 '12 at 17:41
    
Alright, will do. –  Sadiq Dec 30 '12 at 10:27
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