How Can AI Solve Deforestation?

How Can AI Solve Deforestation?

Here is how AI solutions are keeping the lungs of the Earth safe.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) 2022 report, in the past 30 years, the world has lost 420 million hectares of forest cover. This loss of forests affects the world in a number of ways, including the depletion of natural habitats for certain species, an increase in global warming and the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. 

All of this makes the preservation of forests a pressing need for the continuation of human life. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Here is a look at how AI assists in combating deforestation and some AI tools that are already being used for this purpose.

Finding vulnerable forest areas 

Some of the most common reasons for deforestation are illegal mining, the development of housing in forested areas, the creation of roads and forest fires, to name a few. AI can be used to track these activities and forecast which areas are more prone to deforestation. An AI tool doing so is PrevisIA. PrevisIA has been developed by tech giant Microsoft, the Brazilian non-profit Imazon and the mining company Vale Fund. 

The tool gets its name from the Portuguese word previsão for “forecast” and IA for “artificial intelligence” (initials reversed). PrevisIA uses Microsoft’s Azure cloud software to study satellite images from the Amazon forests and find areas that are susceptible to deforestation activities. It generates forecasts based on information, such as topography, official and unofficial roads in the forests, urban infrastructure and socioeconomic data. 

Since its inception, the AI has found that 191 municipalities within the Amazon environment are at a high or very high risk of deforestation. Microsoft and its partners intend to collaborate with local governments to use the information found by PrevisIA to prevent deforestation. Data about which area is high risk and which isn’t is freely accessible on PrevisIA’s website. 

Tracking illegal logging

Illegal logging accounts for 50-90% of all deforestation activities in tropical forest areas, such as the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia. This illegal felling of trees is said to account for 10% of all global warming emissions. AI can solve this problem right at the source. One of the AI projects working toward stopping illegal logging is Google’s AI framework TensorFlow. The AI has been designed to improve speech recognition but is being used by the non-profit Rainforest Connections to track the noises of chainsaws and logging trucks. 

To get the AI into the forests, Rainforest Connections’ team of engineers and developers has built weather-resistant sensors from old mobile phones. These are hidden inside different parts of the forest and upload all the sounds recorded to a cloud-based server. One such modified mobile phone can detect illegal logging over a kilometer away, protecting around 300 hectares of rainforest. 

Making forest data more accurate

Another thing AI is capable of doing is ensuring that the data collected about forests is accurate. If you are thinking that the task of monitoring satellite imagery of forests can be done by human beings as well, you aren’t wrong. But the process of sifting through these vast quantities of data is extremely slow and labor-intensive. 

Thus, AI tools have been created to handle the same. One such tool is MANA Vox AI. This AI tool has been created by MANA Vox, a French non-profit, in collaboration with IBM. It compiles all discussions about deforestation taking place on social media and cross-checks them against credible sources so that non-profits working in the forest conversation space can target their efforts in the right direction. 

Re-establishing forest cover

AI can also be used to speed up the process of reforestation. A company working in this space is the startup Reforestum. The company allows its community to offset their carbon footprints by planting trees in their stead. Customers can then track the progress of these projects with the AI tool created by Reforestum and Ecosphere+. This tool uses satellite imaging and radar data to monitor tree growth and measure the number of carbon emissions offset by a particular forest. 

Another project being done in this space is by the U.K.-based startup Dendra Systems. The company has created drones to monitor forest cover and plant saplings. It also has an AI tool that uses the data collected by drones to identify and map all species of plants which, in turn, enables weed management. 

Besides helping maintain forest cover and reduce deforestation, AI has also made tremendous contributions to protecting wildlife by detecting poachers and helping identify animal species. But despite all that AI is capable of, its scope is limited if significant efforts aren’t made by world governments to create policies to prevent deforestation. Governments need to act on the information generated by AI so that bad actors are discouraged from illegal logging and timely conservation efforts can be implemented. 

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Header image courtesy of Envato.

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