The warmer temperatures and drought conditions currently haunting several areas around the world bring consequences for life in different forms. Whereas some animals and plants get a tougher time surviving, others thrive. Unfortunately, when the ones enduring and prospering under the new conditions are of a destructive kind, things are of course taking a turn towards an undesirable scenario.
This is the case with some tree preying beetles in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, which are creating an epidemic in forests along a whole continent. As these insects prolong their natural life-cycle, they kill off a lot more trees than they used to and the dead trees create an unfortunately splendid source for wildfires. However, new technology is now starting to enable researchers to use satellite imagery to identify the sources of small, ecosystem-altering events.
The previous attempts have involved scientists examining damages from the ground, an approach that has been far from fruitful since it is hard to reveal patterns and gather useful data on that level. Now, a study published this week describes how scientists at Oregon State University have combined new satellite imagery with older data from airplane and ground surveys to show in unprecedented detail where insects are damaging trees in the respective forest regions, as OPB reports. Studies like these are important because they are taking advantage of the latest data analytics tools to help manage problems that have been observed, and largely been misunderstood, for decades.
The progress has been achieved by using a computer program called LandTrendr developed by scientists at Boston University Earth and Environment. The aim of the researchers at Oregon State University is to map and create an atlas of insect-caused tree mortality that allows them to identify hotspots and zero in on possible causes. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the LandTrendr algorithm incorporates satellite images of the regions affected by fire and bugs with the scientists’ own fieldwork and historical aerial data from the U.S. Forest Service, which has long used airplanes to survey insect infestations.
Gigaom reports that the level of detail provided by analyzing the freshly claimed sets of data could give land managers a powerful tool in fighting new outbreaks. If they know when, why and where previous outbreaks emerged, then they can begin to predict and prevent future outbreaks. In the press release, the Oregon State University representatives say that the new methods are not yet available to businesses, government agencies and other organizations, but through a partnership between Oregon State and Google, that may change.
The parties are currently working together to use satellite data and new analytical procedures in a system that would be accessible to the land managers. The tech giant already has its Earth Engine platform in place, facilitating for planetary data and analysis, and the new system will be freely available on the platform in the future, all for the sake of our forests and our planet’s well-being.