Editorial Feature

Drone Reforestation: The Future of Rebuilding Earth’s Forests with Scalable Technology

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Forests cover nearly one-third of the earth’s landmass, but they are under threat. To fix this enormous problem, ambitious, large-scale solutions are necessary. To commemorate Earth Day on 22 April, AZoCleantech is taking a closer look at deforestation and exploring drone reforestation technology with real, scalable potential to help Earth recover from the harmful effects of climate change.

Drone Reforestation Technology

Reforestation efforts have traditionally required armies of volunteers and workers to plant trees in areas that have been affected by deforestation and forest degradation. This is a time-consuming and difficult labor and means that costs vary heavily depending on site accessibility and local infrastructure.

There are other established rapid reforestation methods – notably, seed dumping from helicopters – but these also have their problems. Imprecise seed dumping often fails to result in effective reforestation, as seeds fail to take root and grow.

In nature, new trees grow from seeds that have been carried in animals’ intestines and deposited in fecal matter. This organic matter acts as a fertilizer for new life, as well as protecting the seed from being eaten by other animals or carried away by winds and rain.

Taking an example from nature, a new breed of reforestation is becoming increasingly viable. Drone reforestation technology packages seeds in special vessels containing natural pest deterrents, fertilizing matter, and soil.

#teamtrees DroneSeed's Post-Wildfire Reforestation

Video Credit: DroneSeed/YouTube.com

To maximize chances of effective reforesting, drone reforestation technology also uses advanced camera and radar imaging and artificial intelligence (AI) to select ideal sites for seeding. Drones carry out on-site assessments of soil types, gradients, and competing vegetation to ensure seeds are dropped where they are most likely to take root and grow.

Companies worldwide are offering drone reforestation technology to landowners and government authorities. Droneseed in the US, Flash Forest in Canada, and Dendra in the UK are some of the leading global organizations. They bring the experience of multi-disciplinary teams of forest scientists, engineers, ecosystem experts, and computer scientists to bear on the problem of deforestation.

Why Is Reforestation Technology Important?

A total of 75,700 square kilometers (18.7 million acres) of forest land is lost every year. Forests play a vital role in the planet’s ecosystems – taking carbon dioxide out of the air through biosequestration, creating clouds in tropical regions, and creating habitats that allow for the rich biodiversity that climate scientists increasingly realize the importance of.

Land changes such as deforestation contribute more to atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions than any other factor after fossil fuel combustion. Deforestation occurs when forest biomass is burned, as well as through the decomposition of remaining organic materials and soil carbon – making up an estimated 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Tropical forests are under threat from deforestation. Due to the great biodiversity and carbon biosequestration they provide the planet, saving them is particularly important.

When forests are replanted, the harmful effects of climate change can be mitigated and reduced. Dust and pollution from the atmosphere are absorbed and natural ecosystems are restored. In some cases, reforestation also allows for local communities to resume sustainable harvesting of the forests’ natural resources.

The greatest environmental impact arising from reforestation efforts is on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. As large, terrestrial, carbon sinks, forests are a vital force against global warming. They take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through biosequestration. Up to 38 tons of carbon dioxide can be taken out of the atmosphere per hectare of reforested land per year.

Since reforestation efforts began in earnest in the late 1990s, the net loss of forests has considerably reduced – from 7.8 million hectares of net deforestation per year in the 1990s to 4.7 million hectares per year in the 2010s.

Reforestation technology which allows for large-scale solutions such as the use of autonomous drones is needed to increase efforts and, eventually, create the recurring net gains of forest area which the planet sorely needs.

Maximizing Forest Area

As well as innovative and scalable reforestation solutions such as drone reforestation technology, reducing the amount of deforestation worldwide will also significantly contribute towards a goal of net forest growth year on year.

A mature forest with trees hundreds of years old is much better at carbon biosequestration, supports more biodiversity and a richer overall ecosystem, and requires no additional economic, energy, or carbon costs to create.

The primary causes of deforestation are clear-cutting for agriculture, which represents 73% of deforestation in the tropical and subtropical countries where four-fifths of the world’s forests grow. This practice is predominantly used for meat production, with soya bean production (80% of which is used in animal feed) and palm oil representing most of the remaining clear-cutting culpability.

Infrastructure and urban expansion account for 20% of deforestation in tropical and subtropical countries, while mining is to blame for 7%. Deforestation – which is driving negative climate change and global warming – is also made worse by some of the effects of climate change (such as soil erosion and wildfires).

Reforestation should be taking place alongside efforts to reduce deforestation such as reducing meat consumption to maximize the amount of valuable forest area on Earth. To do this effectively, it must be scalable and should capitalize on advances in engineering, technology, and computing to plant as many trees as possible.

Drone reforestation technology may be a key player in the global effort to reforest the world in the decades to come.

References and Further Reading

Bastin, Jean-Francois, Yelena Finegold, Claude Garcia, Danilo Mollicone, Marcelo Rezende, Devin Routh, Constantin M. Zohner, and Thomas W. Crowther (2019). “The Global Tree Restoration Potential.” Science. [Online] https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aax0848.

“Climate change: How the UK contributes to global deforestation” (2020). BBC Newsbeat. [Online] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-53907739.

“Deforestation and Forest Degradation.” WWF.org. [Online] https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/deforestation-and-forest-degradation.

FAO and UNEP (2020). “The State of the World’s Forests 2020. In brief. Forests, biodiversity and people.” [Online] https://doi.org/10.4060/ca8985en.

“Fiscal incentives for agricultural commodity production: Options to forge compatibility with REDD+. UN-REDD Policy brief 7.” UNEP. [Online] https://wedocs.unep.org/handle/20.500.11822/9717.

Henkel, Marlon (2015). 21st Century Homestead: Sustainable Agriculture. North Carolina, USA: Lulu.

IPCC (2019). “IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse gas fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.” IPCC. [Online] https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/4.-SPM_Approved_Microsite_FINAL.pdf.

Hosonuma, Noriko, Martin Herold, Veronique De Sy, Ruth S De Fries, Maria Brockhaus, Louis Verchot, Arild Angelsen, and Erika Romijn. 2012. “An Assessment of Deforestation and Forest Degradation Drivers in Developing Countries.” Environmental Research Letters. [Online] https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044009.

Margulis, Sérgio (2004). Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. Washington DC, USA: World Bank.

Negin, Elliott (2012). “Would a Large-scale Reforestation Effort Help Counter the Global Warming Impacts of Deforestation?” Union of Concerned Scientists. [Online] https://blog.ucsusa.org/elliott-negin/would-reforestation-help-counter-deforestation.

“10 Myths About Deforestation.” WWF.org. [Online] https://www.wwf.org.uk/10-myths-about-deforestation.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.


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