Tree-Planting Drones Could Save Us From Deforestation
Maybe drones can help us salvage the damages have been done to the rainforests
August 26, 2019, Bruno Jacobsen
According to the Nature, there are around 3 trillion trees throughout our planet. That's about half the number of trees we had 12,000 years ago. And we chop down 15 billion more trees every year. That's without a doubt a lot. But these tree-planting drones could help us get some of it back.
Deforestation is happening faster than we thought
Deforestation is not a small problem. The World Economic Forum calls it "one of the greatest challenges facing humanity." According to them, it could lead to disastrous climate change, loss of species, and significantly affect indigenous people's habitats.
And in 2019, we are facing the biggest challenges yet in the fight against deforestation and global warming. Between January and August, there are nearly 75,000 forest fires in Brazil, with more than half in the Amazon region. The Amazon forest, also known as the "planet's lung", constitutes about 25 per cent of the carbon sink globally, which plays a vital role in slowing the pace of global warming.
Covering more than five million square kilometres across nine countries, the forest of Amazonia is the largest rainforest on Earth. It holds 20 per cent of the freshwater and creates 20 per cent of the air we breath.
According to scientists, we are dangerously close at the "tipping point" of tree loss in the Amazon. If the burning continues and the amount of tree loss in the forest reaches 25 to 40 per cent, deforestation will be irreversible and the forest will be gone forever within a matter of decades.
"One of the cornerstones of climatic stability on our planet is in peril and the consequences of this are almost too large to fathom. The future of our civilisation depends on its integrity" said Christian Poirier, Brazil programme director for NGO Amazon Watch.
Planting Trees from above
While the global community is focusing on stopping the spreading fire, some already think about how to grow back the forest in the aftermath.
The initial estimation shows approximately 640 million acres have been affected by the fire. However, the exact figure is unknown given the scale of the devastation.
According to Prof. Yadvinder Malhi, Professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, in normal circumstances, the forest would take around 20-40 years to regenerate on its own.
However, because most of the fires in the Amazon was man-made, reforestation will be much more challenging. The humid forests of the Amazon have no adaptation to fire and suffer immense damage.
Plus, because of its particular tropical rainforest biome landscape, it's difficult for human labour to enter the forest and plant the seeds.
Enter tree-planting drones.
On average, a human can grow approximately 2000-3000 trees per day.
The drone, developed by BioCarbon Engineering, is capable of planting 40,000 seeds per day.
First, a drone flies across the area and scan the topography to create a 3D map. The data about soil condition and the most efficient planting pattern for that area is collected and calculated using algorithms.
Then, the operation team sends the drones carrying biodegradable pods to the area. The drones fire those pods into the ground. Upon planting in the ground, those pods release the germinated seed and nutrients.
Source: NBC News
This method is about 10 times faster and only 20 per cent of the cost of hand planting, estimated by the system's engineers. The best thing about tree-planting drones is that because there is no heavy machinery involved, it's possible to plant in hard-to-reach areas that have no roads or steeps, impenetrable terrain.
According to Lauren Fletcher, the company's CEO, 60 drone teams would be able to plant 1 billion trees per year.
In 2018, BioCarbon collaborated with Myanmar's Worldview International Foundation and deployed its drones in a field south of Yangon, Myanmar. The plan was to use the drones to restore the mangrove forests in Myanmar and bring back a vital natural habitat.
Source: BioCarbon Engineering
We have written about the different industries drones are expected to revolutionize. From e-commerce to entertainment and construction. Here's another area where drones could have a profound impact.
Trees are an extremely important part of our ecosystem. Without them, we wouldn't be here. Drones may prove an important ally in preserving the planet we call home. By automating tree-planting drones, we may very well mitigate many of the risks of deforestation. We may even be able to reverse it.
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