The fight to combat deforestation has an unlikely ally. Tree planting drones. Australian scientist Dr. Susan Graham has developed a pair of drones that have the ability to plant trees in areas otherwise impossible. The drones will be essential in the effort to reduce deforestation of Earth. Scientific American attribute up to 15% of the world's total global carbon emissions is caused by deforestation. Any large cleared areas of forest for farming or urbanization directly contributes to climate change.
The drones developed by Dr. Susan Graham work in tandem. The first one scans an area of land searching for suitable conditions for planting. The drone then maps the area and employs specific algorithms to locate optimal planting areas. These areas are identified as places with high soil content, with low obstacles such as water bodies or rocky areas.
The second drone is then sent on a specific flight path informed by the mapping drone with its seed payload. The drone can carry up to 150 seedpods to deliver in a single flight. The seedpods are designed to fall from the drone and the casing around the seed breaks down giving the seed a highly nutritious beginning. The pods are designed to carry multiple species of trees and will break down according to individual species' germination period.
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The drones are being brought to market by Oxford-based company BioCarbon Engineering. Lauren Fletcher, the CEO said: “We’re firing at one a second, which means a pair of operators will be able to plant nearly 100,000 trees per day — 60 teams like this will get us to a billion trees a year.”
The drones will be used in areas that make planting by hand or ground-based machines impossible. The drones will be able to be used for rehabilitation as well as forestry planting applications.
These aren’t the only drones dropping seeds. U.S based company DroneSeed is working to develop a similar technology to allow mass seeding of forests. Currently, the company provides herbicide and pesticide spraying in difficult to access areas.
Deforestation is caused for a number of reasons. As the world's population increases, so does the demand for common products like paper and wood. Forests that previously were deemed unsuitable for forestry are being cleared for any value they have and then often planted with palms farmed for the highly sought after palm oil.
Forests are also being cleared to keep up with the world's increasing demand for soybeans for use in products like milk and as an additive in a variety of processed foods.
Other common causes are mining and urbanization. Once forests have been cleared the huge costs and difficulties in replanting mean large areas are left unchecked resulting in soil erosion and the increase in noxious weeds. Deforestation also has a devastating impact on wildlife and other ecosystems supported by the forests such as river and lake systems. Illegal deforestation is a huge problem in countries like Brazil and India where the sheer scale of the country makes it difficult to police.
The drone technology could assist governments in rapid replanting that otherwise could take years at a much higher cost.