Tree Planting by Drones

Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills 7 million people worldwide and costs society about $5 trillion; and water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million. 

The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they are permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways.

Source: climate.nasa.gov

Tree planting is turning out to be an effective tool for mitigating climate change, however, the speed at which trees are being planted needs to be accelerated precipitously.  

The justification for speeding up the process of tree planting has to do with the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change report which was published in October 2018.  Accordingly, there are only 12 years left to limit global warming to the 1.5°C target.   In this time, anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must drop by 45 percent. By 2050 they need to reach net zero, with any further emissions offset by deliberate removal of CO₂ already in the atmosphere. Investment firm Schroders have warned the global economy could suffer annual losses of $23trn in the long term without rapid action. This permanent economic damage would be almost four times greater than that of the 2008 global financial crisis.  

Source: crosslight.org.eu

BP’s annual global energy report, published recently, which represents an influential review of the market, revealed for the first time that temperature fluctuations are increasing the world’s use of fossil fuels, in spite of efforts to tackle the climate crisis.  Here is a reality, carbon emissions climbed by 2 percent in 2018, faster than any year since 2011, because the demand for energy easily outstripped the rapid rollout of renewable energy.

The recorded temperature swings – days which are much hotter or colder than normal – helped drive the world’s biggest jump in gas consumption for more than 30 years.  They also resulted in a second consecutive annual increase for coal use, reversing three years of decline earlier this decade.

The previous article published on the subject of tree planting was dedicated to establishing the following two facts:

  1. Trees and other plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air as they grow.  Using energy from the sun, trees turn the carbon captured from the CO2 molecules into building blocks for their trunks, branches and foliage and this known as a part of the carbon cycle. It makes sense to assume that deforestation, and especially the destruction of rainforests, contributes significantly to climate change; and
  2. The public and private sectors around the world are committed to planting billions of trees to help mitigate the climate change.
Source: payment.americanarbrists.net

The focus of this article is to explore and highlight the efforts being invested around the world to meet and exceed the desirable speed for planting trees with the help of drones technology.

About 15 billion trees are being chopped around the world a year and only about 9 billion trees are being planted, resulting in a net loss of 6 billion trees a year.  Consequently, it is estimated that the world loses between 74,000 and 95,000 square miles of forest a year – that’s an area the size of 48 football fields lost every minute.

As reported by nature, International Weekly Journal of Science, based on a study conducted by an international group of scientists, there are roughly 3.04 trillion trees on Earth — more than seven times the number previously estimated. It is also reported that the previously accepted estimate of the world’s tree population, about 400 billion, was based mostly on satellite imagery. Although remote imaging reveals a lot about where forests are, it does not provide the same level of resolution that a person counting trunks would achieve.

The study also disclosed that human activity is detrimental to tree abundance worldwide. The researchers estimated that since the onset of agriculture about 12,000 years ago, the number of trees worldwide has dropped by 46 percent.

“The scale of human impact is astonishing,” says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist now at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen who led the study while at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. “Obviously we expected humans would have a prominent role, but I didn’t expect that it would come out as the as the strongest control on tree density.”

Source: newsx.com

The good news is that an environmental engineer who worked 20 years with NASA wants to use drone technology to plant up to one billion trees a year, without having to plant each one by hand.  Drones will fly two or three meters above the ground and fire out pods containing pre-germinated seeds that are covered in a nutritious hydrogel.  The drones have been shown to plant trees exponentially faster than locals being forced to plant them by hand, and the method is far cheaper than traditional planting methods.

It is true that the process of hand planting trees is slow and expensive. To keep pace with the tractors and bulldozers clearing vast areas of land requires an industrial-scale solution.  For example, a drone that can plant up to 100,000 trees a day.  BioCarbon Engineering, a UK-based company backed by drone manufacturer Parrot, has come up with a method of planting trees quickly and cheaply. Not only that, trees can also be planted in areas that are difficult to access or otherwise unviable.

The drone technology works in stages:

  1. Step 1: Mapping drones fly more than 300 feet over the land, collecting detailed data about the topography and soil quality. An algorithm uses that data to choose the best locations to plant trees, and the best species to plant;
  2. Step 2: A second group of drones, flying low over the ground, automatically follows the map to plant seeds in custom, nutrient-filled “seed pods” designed by plant scientists to support each species; each drone can carry a mix of different species simultaneously. The drones fire the pods quickly enough to penetrate the soil.
Source: interestingengineering.com

The process targets locations for planting a seed within centimeters. “We can modify what to plant, and where, so you have the highest chance of survival,” says Irina Fedorenko, cofounder of BioCarbon Engineering, who initially connected with the founder of Worldview International at a conference. “If you do aerial spreading–you just spread seeds wherever–maybe they hit a rock, maybe they hit a swamp, and they’re not going to survive. But we can basically control for that.”

The experts in the field estimate that their method is about 10 times faster and only 20 percent of the cost of hand planting. And because there is no heavy machinery involved, it’s possible to plant in hard-to-reach areas that have no roads or steep, inaccessible terrain. The BioCarbon team has tested its technology in various locations and recently trialed reseeding historic mining sites in Dungog, Australia.

Source: Dronesinsite.com

Irina Fedorenko, cofounder of Biocarbon Engineering, stated that We now have a case confirmed of what species we can plant and in what conditions.  The right combination of species and specific environmental conditions made the restoration work. We are now ready to scale up our planting and replicate this success.

The startup, which also uses drones to plant trees and grasses at abandoned mines in Australia and on sites in other parts of the world, is working with a nonprofit organization in Myanmar called Worldview International Foundation. To date, the nonprofit organization has worked with villagers to plant trees by hand. The project began in 2012, after the government began opening the country’s borders to international business. More than six million trees have been planted so far, and the nonprofit plans to plant another four million by the end of 2019. But it also recognizes that humans can’t easily cover the amount of land that could potentially be restored.

While it is possible for two operators working on 10 drones to plant up to 400,000 trees per day, humans also have a crucial role in this endeavor to restore the environment.

Source: flipboard.com

In Vancouver, Dirk Brinkman, chief executive of Brinkman and Associates Reforestation, says that roughly 450 million trees a year are planted in Canada, most after logging. However, governments can’t always afford to replace the millions of hectares damaged by fire or other sources, so drones might be a more effective and affordable solution, he adds.

Here is the bottomline – In order to bridge the gap between 15 billion trees that are being chopped and 9 billion trees that are being planted each year, each country around the world needs to plant 40 percent more trees each year.  It is entirely feasible to meet and exceed the targets for tree planting in each country around the world if these countries consider deploying drones for planning trees as drones not only help speed up the process but it is also much cheaper.

16 June 2019