July 26, 2021

Satellites will be mapping every stationary detail on Earth, including trees

The latest satellite imaging depicts tree canopies covering a colossal section of West Africa. This data proves that it would soon be plausible to locate even trees on Earth using satellites worldwide. In understanding the ecosystem, we have to go beyond Earth’s landscape and venture the details on Earth-like vegetation cover evidenced by the forests, grasslands, mountains, and woodlands. This data will facilitate the evaluation and inferencing of the global ecology, water cycle, and understanding of Earth’s geochemical activities.

Brandt and his team working on the report, Writing in Nature, came up with a plan to analyze hectares of the Sahara region and the Sahel in West Africa. These scientists routed over 1 billion trees forming the canopies in these regions. Their data has been instrumental in imaging the area to explore its details and for excursions.

The team took this tedious task of mapping all the trees that appeared in every satellite image they received. In typical cases, researchers usually take a more significant proportion of the area’s understudy to represent a segment of it instead of narrowing down on the minor details like the trees in that region.

The satellite industry developments have opened doors for the retrieval of high-resolution images using satellites that communicate with drones navigating over the Earth’s surface. The purpose of drones is to verify whether the details appearing on Earth are the actual representation on the ground. The technology will help the environmentalists and ecosystem fanatics monitor and manage the Earth’s resources and detect activities that trigger environmental degradation.

Brandt and his colleagues collected over 11000 images, analyzed them, and estimated distances between them. This process was successful courtesy of an artificial intelligence (AI) program that they employed. The AI’s design allows it to detect objects and simulate their appearance and color. The AI has a program coded with colors and data to identify the elements in various pictures. The high resolution of cameras on the satellites gives optical images from which the AI has adequate training to differentiate them.

Additionally, the latest analysis revealed that there are about 430000 forest scarps on Earth. The researchers who gave this statistic used regression analysis to map out the tree density according to the vegetation and climate that an area receives. 

The evaluation inferred that the whole globe contains about three trillion species on the count of those trees that have substantial matter. Nevertheless, this statistic may not be accurate since various activities that take up trees occur on Earth and natural phenomena unavoidable. The other limitation in this analysis is that the trees in dry regions were taken as estimates since the color codes could not accurately infer the differences between a rocky feature and the trees.

Finally, the species identification was challenging since most trees are deeply embedded amongst each other, with some branches overlapping to other trees. Nevertheless, more research and advancements in technology will facilitate the trees’ corroboration to group them according to their species.