With forests covering vast expanses of land, individuals and organisations engaged in illegal logging and deforestation are easily able to evade detection. We take a look at a couple of projects in the Amazon that use satellite and drone technology to detect and punish illegal logging.
Anti-logging protestors now have some tools giving them an edge over illegal logging practices with satellite and drone technology being deployed to keep watch on deforestation activities. We take a look at how these technologies are having an impact in preserving the Amazon Rainforest:
Penalising Illegal Logging in the Brazilian Amazon
Deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is by no means a new trend. World Wildlife Fund estimates that around 17 percent of the rainforest has been cut down in the last 50 years. 6,000 square km of forest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between 2012 and 2013 alone. A lot of this due to agricultural expansion in surrounding areas. Overall, rates of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest have dipped since 2010 though the last two to three years has seen the numbers creep marginally back up again and new deforestation hot spots constantly need to be identified.
There are a number of ways that authorities and activists are trying to keep on top of illegal logging. One of them is a satellite-based system called the Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation (DETER) that relies on data obtained by a sensor on certain NASA satellites. Developed by the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE) of the Brazilian Ministry for Science and Technology, the remote sensing system sends alerts about significant changes in land cover that occurs over a 6.25 hectare area in the Brazilian Amazon. Authorities can then take action and penalise the individuals and organisations involved
A 2013 study analysed the effect of such policy measurements on illegal logging, finding that the initiative helped prevent the clearing of 59,500 square km of Amazon forest between 2007 and 2011. The study also found that the lack of cleared land did not have an adverse effect on local agricultural operations.
Though effective, the system is not perfect and cannot detect deforestation and land cover patterns in areas where there is a lot of cloud cover. In this instance, lower-flying drones may be of use.
Using Drones to Monitor Deforestation in Peru
Illegal logging is also a big problem in the Peruvian Amazon, with tens of thousands of acres being lost in the area every year. Here, seeking out and keeping track of illegal logging in real time is practically impossible so one organisation is using drones as flying cameras to keep watch on the forest from above.
The Amazon Basin Conservation Association in Peru has developed a custom drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to scan a large forested area in the Amazon basin. A 5,000 USD “flying wing" foam drone (which slightly resembles a miniature toy plane) was developed by Wake Forest University graduate student Max Messinger to catch illegal loggers and miners in the Amazon. The team at the Amazon Basin Conservation Association scours satellite imagery to determine any areas that might be trouble spots (i.e. areas where illegal could be taking place) and then sends out the drones (which are equipped with cameras) to the areas to investigate and monitor the protected area further.
Drones can of course fly much lower than satellites meaning, in this instance, they are able to fly below the cloud cover. The team also uses the devices to survey the success of reforestation efforts and measure carbon in the area.
Speaking to The Drone Info, Messinger stated:
"We've always known that the action is in the (tree canopy)... it is just spectacular to be able to see these forests from above and to use drones to do science in the canopy."
In areas as dense and vast as rainforests, it is difficult for authorities and activists to stay aware of all illegal logging activties. Drone and satellite technology, when used in innovative ways, can help keep track of what's going below the upper forest canopy and curb deforestation.
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