updated 12/22/2008 12:35:11 PM ET 2008-12-22T17:35:11

A new system for mapping destruction of Brazil's Amazon rainforest is reporting a surge in areas that have been partially cut but not yet cleared.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said the system shows that an area roughly the size of Belize or the state of Vermont was partially knocked down this year.

The institute tracked 9,600 square miles of partially decimated forest this year, up 67 percent from 5,750 square miles in 2007, according to statistics on its Web site. That's also twice the size of zones that were clearcut during the last 12 months on record.

Scientists say the new system for tracking areas in the process of being destroyed can better alert the government to areas needing urgent policing. Previously Brazil's government concentrated on monitoring areas completely denuded of trees.

"It is much more likely that the clearcut will occur in areas that have already been degraded than in areas where the forest is intact," the director of the space research institute, Gilberto Camara, told the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper.

The new system uses the same satellite images that Brazil's scientists use to track clearcut areas, which have been monitored since 1988.

Brazil slowed deforestation by 60 percent between 2005 and 2007, but officials recently announced that destruction accelerated in the first half of this year as higher soy and beef prices prompted farmers to carve more fields and pastures from the rain forest.

Brazilian officials released a plan to slow deforestation earlier this month — the first time the government has set a concrete goal to decelerate rainforest destruction.

The goal is to reduce deforestation to 1,900 square miles a year by 2017.

The plan would boost federal patrols of forested areas, replant 13.6 million acres of forest, and finance sustainable development projects to give locals alternative work in areas where illegal logging dominates the economy.

Deforestation — both the burning and rotting of Amazon wood — releases an estimated 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, making Brazil at least the sixth biggest emitter of the gas in the world.

Rain forest burning accounts for 55 percent of Brazilian emissions that contribute to global warming, officials have said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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