The Amazon rainforest holds a near-mythic resonance for people around the world. Its lush environs are the epitome of a wild, verdant jungle.
For scientists, this region is treasured for its biodiversity, hosting a huge array of plant and animal species, a menagerie far denser and more dynamic than in most places on Earth. Its massive collection of trees and other vegetation also plays a crucial role in regulating our atmosphere, taking in large amounts of carbon dioxide and other atmospheric compounds.
Studying The Way the Amazon Breathes
Now a group of scientists is studying the way the Amazon breathes, monitoring the daily intake and release of atmospheric chemicals. And they have a powerful new tool for the job: a DJI M600 drone.
The research team has replaced one of the cameras slung underneath the drone with a new sensor that “sniffs” the Amazon, a powerful chemical detector that acts like a flying nose. Launched from observation towers above the forest canopy, these drones can cover a wide swath of terrain before returning to land.
Dr. Scot T. Martin, a professor of environmental science at Harvard, is helping to lead this project, in partnership with Amazonas State University and technical assistance from DJI. “It really opens up a whole new dimension to study the forest and forest emissions,” Dr. Martin told Commercial UAV News. “We’ve had the tower, which is a fixed location, and we’ve had aircraft, which are 10 km above, but we’ve had this missing scale. The types of things we might discover and learn about the forest are really boundless because of this.”
Early Warning System
Like many natural landscapes, the Amazon is under pressure from a host of human forces. Logging, development and global warming all add stress to the plants that grow in this region. That stress can be detected by shifts in the plants’ chemical emissions. “Knowing when those changes are happening is going to help us avoid a disaster scenario,” Martin said in his recent interview. “Could we have some type of early warning system for this by being able to smell the forest?”
Martin’s project isn’t the only one to use drones as a sensor platform for studying plant health. A number of researchers in the agricultural sector are experimenting with near infrared cameras. Dennis Bowman, who studies commercial crops at the University of Illinois Extension, has found that a drone equipped with a near-infrared sensor can detect patches of weeds, identify which plants are healthy or stressed, and even detect things like drainage and soil erosion.
Slantrange, a California startup, was one of the first companies to adopt DJI’s Payload SDK. This allowed them to integrate a multispectral camera directly into DJI’s hardware and mobile app, giving farmers a powerful and intuitive new tool.
To learn more about this project, you can read an in-depth interview with Dr. Martin here.
Read more stories about how drone technology are making great contributions to their communities and the environment in our #DronesForGood series. Follow us on social media and check out the hastag #DronesForGood.