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Drones used to film Hollywood movies are being re-purposed to study the Amazon rainforest

November 6th, 2019

The Amazon tropical rainforest is the largest of its kind in the world. It has a massive collection of plants and trees that take more carbon dioxide than any other forest in the planet. Its thick jungle holds a lot of flora and fauna that is waiting to be fully discovered.

Because of its size, studying its biodiversity and everything that happens inside this vast and marvelous jungle has always been a challenge for scientists. Until recently, researchers have always relied on aircrafts, towers and satellite imaging only to catch a glimpse of this habitat’s true nature. They weren’t exactly clear images of the rainforest but it was all they had. Or so they thought.

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Good News Network Source: Good News Network

Harvard researchers have finally found a new and clearer way to observe and study the Amazon. And, it is through the use of the same technology that has brought Hollywood blockbusters to life: drones. More specifically, these scientists use an DJI M600 drone to study how the Amazon breathes as close and clear as ever.

Among the leaders of the research group is Dr. Scot Martin, a Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering and Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard. Dr. Martin and his team make use of the said drone, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, not only to take photos or videos of the rainforest but for another purpose as well.

“Normally when people think of drones, they think taking pictures,” Dr. Martin said. “These types of UAVs, called hexacopters for their six blades, are also used in Hollywood to film movies and television shows.

“Instead of filming or taking pictures, scientists attach a one-kilogram chemical-sensing package to the front. [The package] is like an electronic nose sensing the forest.”

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DJI Source: DJI

The Amazon has multiple towers placed in strategic places. These towers gather information from the surrounding areas and send the data gathered back to the researchers. With the UAVs as the new improvement in their research method and in collaboration with the Amazonas State University, the scientists can now be able to measure the parts that the towers previously can’t reach.

“If you want to understand the forest, that is where the UAV fits in. It’s the middle ground. It gives us a new ability to respond to science questions,” Dr. Martin added. “This study is showing what can be possible.”

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Good News Network Source: Good News Network

The drones are released on top of each tower, fly around for about 17 minutes and land back on the tower so they can be recharged. The sensors attached to the drones monitor volatile organic compounds emitted by plants and through this information, scientists are able to tell how these plants cope with the stressors such as climate change, logging, global warming and even development.

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Good News Network Source: Good News Network

Ultimately, scientists are looking into the possibility of having an early warning system that could tell us whenever there is a natural disaster that is about to happen in the forest. Being able to “smell” the Amazon rainforest through the use of these drones can be an effective way to avoid a potential disaster scenario.

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Harvard University Source: Harvard University

Currently, Harvard holds a grant from the National Science Foundation enabling him and his team to study the Amazon for a total of three years. However, Dr. Martin sees himself still doing research in the Amazon rainforest for many years to come.

Watch the video below to learn more about this incredible advancement in the study of the Amazon rainforest.

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Source: Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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