It’s like something out of a futurist movie. It won’t be long before flying ‘drone’ robots will provide an unprecedented look at Peru’s tropical cloud forest. And it’s high time we got to grips with it, because as well as being one of the planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems, the cloud forest is a vital indicator of the progress of global climate change.
Drones take to the Peruvian skies
The conservation biologist Miles Silman and his team are due to launch will launch two different drones, with a mission explore the region’s climate. It means we will have a detailed, unique bird’s eye view of this previously inaccessible region for the first time.
The drones will reveal thermal data down to just a few centimetres, an unprecedented achievement, and measure visible light right down to sub-centimetre level. Which means scientists will be able to see exactly how individual rainforest canopies are fixing carbon and releasing oxygen and water at landscape level, collecting crucial data about canopy leaf temperature.
As Max Messinger, a biology graduate student who helped assemble and test the drones, said, “Once we build a better understanding of why the forest is behaving in a certain way we can start making decisions about how do we conserve this region and ensure that it continues to function.” But the drones can do much more. With the right equipment on board they can also collect data on everything from the characteristics of leaves and flowers to animal behaviour.
Amazingly accurate 3D modelling
The drones will snap images from multiple viewpoints, and the data will be used to build amazingly accurate three dimensional models for lab study. So far it has been almost impossible to gather reliable data about the forest, which is home to an astonishing and diverse range of 390 billion trees. Silman commented, “While there is satellite data on temperature and thermal distribution in the Amazon going back to the early 1970s, it doesn’t provide the resolution necessary to build the detailed models we need.”
The initiative will cost a great deal less than the only other viable alternative, renting a helicopter to cover an area so vast it’s difficult to imagine.
Time is running out. It has been running out for some time. So let’s hope the information they gather drives more informed, effective and efficient rainforest conservation.