Internet of Things Augmenting the Way We Monitor Forests

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4Q 2021 | IN-6391

The recent increase in wildfires in California and the Amazon rainforest fire in 2020 are two of the many events that have pushed the topic of forests to the forefront in the climate change movement.

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Forests: The Earth's CO2 Sponge


The recent increase in wildfires in California and the Amazon rainforest fire in 2020 are two of the many events that have pushed the topic of forests to the forefront in the climate change movement. Significant parts of the Amazon rainforest are now said to emit more CO2 than they absorb, raising concerns on the impact of climate change and deforestation on this key carbon emissions sponge. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) and the UN Environment Programme, forests currently cover 31% of the global land area. This may seem like a lot, but since 1990, it is estimated that around 420 million hectares of forest have been lost and converted to other land uses despite the deforestation rate’s having decreased over the past 30 years. Over 100 million hectares of forests have had adverse effects due to forest fires, pests, diseases, drought, and damaging weather events. Forest monitoring has been around for quite some time, with national governments and governing bodies wanting a better understanding of how the climate and its disturbances and interactions have impacted forest dynamics. Advances in satellite technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) are providing various stakeholders with cutting-edge tools to improve decision making when it comes to the global management of forests.

IoT Sensors Are Enabling Active Monitoring in Forests


Traditionally, the monitoring of Earth’s forest biodiversity has been done through the use of satellite imagery and satellite-borne sensors. Since the early 1970s, data from satellites measuring and monitoring land cover have allowed scientists to determine the amount and distribution of tree cover. In addition, remote sensing has facilitated the mapping of forest species, providing further insight into the impact of forest biodiversity. Today, advances in technology have taken this one step further. The FAO has developed Open Foris—an innovative and accessible set of forest monitoring platforms and tools—to allow users to collect, analyze, and report data to the global community. Within Open Foris, the System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing, and Analysis for Land Monitoring (SEPAL) has been developed to enable researchers and technicians around the globe to access and analyze satellite imagery and derive results that support decision making. SEPAL combines supercomputing power, open-source geospatial data-processing software, and modern geospatial data infrastructures, such as the Google Earth Engine. These platforms and tools have played a key role in helping national governments in their fight against deforestation.

However, the use of satellite imagery in remote sensing does have its limitations. For one, such methods and tools do not provide real-time information to the relevant authorities or governing bodies. As such, instances of wildfires and active or ongoing deforestation cannot be identified and responded to in an efficient and swift manner. This is where IoT sensors come into the picture. Embedded in different trees for sensing environmental parameters, IoT sensors can enable real-time forest monitoring and, crucially, early detection of events that pose a serious threat to forests and their biodiversity. For example, Dryad Networks’ Silvanet IoT solution combines solar-powered sensors with a mesh of low-range wide-area network gateways and a cloud platform used to detect wildfires in its early stages, giving firefighters the chance to put out a fire before it spreads out of control. Aside from wildfire detection, the solution equips forest owners with the tools to monitor the forest’s health and growth while also generating insights to further optimize tree growth and counter potential threats, such as droughts. However, these solutions are still relatively nascent, with connectivity and cost as potential headwinds for its development and implementation.

Collaborative Effort to Ensure Greater Forest Visibility


Although the use of IoT-connected sensors is rather nascent in the forestry industry, the growth potential and its resulting benefits are tremendous. Improvements in connectivity and IoT sensor technology and the decreasing cost of IoT devices will pave the way for increased usage and deployment in forests around the globe. Further implementation of technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can potentially augment forest monitoring through predictive analytics, allowing more efficient, effective, and accurate monitoring of forests and biodiversity. Further, damaging wildfires and unauthorized activities such as deforestation may be prevented. However, to encourage the use of IoT sensors and various technologies, it is crucial for national governments to allocate sufficient funding and resources toward the forestry industry. In addition, IoT device and service companies do play a role in enabling functions relating to the dynamics of the forestry efforts and driving down the costs of these solutions. As forests are spread across vast areas, the ability to make important investments into the digitization of forest monitoring will allow for more informed and quick decision making and for support structure of accurate and reliable data that ensures the sustainability of forests globally.



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