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Zoom! Environmental Application of Drones

Jiwoo Hwang

 Drones capturing the beauty of nature; drones lighting up the night skies forming graphical images; drones swerving through obstacles as they race past each other: while many believe that drones are mainly used for recreation purposes, they have a variety of other primary purposes, many of which help the environment. Their accessibility and ability to approach difficult-to-reach locations without human interaction, as their official name Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) suggests, allows them to be ideal tools we humans can depend on. Let us look at four different ways that drones are being used to save our planet.

   One of the most common ways drones benefit the environment is the monitoring of wildlife populations.

   Drones can be equipped with cameras and sensors that allow researchers to track wildlife, tally population counts, and monitor behavior.  Happily, there is no need to bother the animals– the drones hum overhead, completely unnoticed by the individuals being monitored. With the information the drones gather, conservationists can plan out how to mitigate threats to endangered species and ensure continuing biodiversity. A study from as early as 2012 shows how UAVs can be used to implement strategies: orangutan populations in Indonesian rainforests were monitored, and conservation biologists used the data to implement a strategy to protect them (Koh and Wich, 2012). With an exponentially increasing number of endangered species each year, such job of drones is crucial. Along with the number of endangered species,  the frequency of environmental disasters is increasing as well.  Another way drones can be employed is to monitor large areas after environmental disasters, whether they are human-caused or natural. Drones can quickly reach affected areas, help with emergency response, and detect pollutants. Because of these abilities, drones can be deployed over land or sea to track the dispersion of chemical spills or count the number of acres burned by a forest fire. One paper demonstrated the ability of drones to assist in detecting and monitoring oil spills, allowing scientists to forecast effects and help direct resources more efficiently (Singh et al., 2015).

   Similarly, UAVs are being utilized in the area of forest management. Drones outfitted with Light Detection and  Ranging (LiDAR) sensors can create maps of forests that give information about tree diversity, and density.  The data can then be used by forest managers to detect illegal logging as well as to monitor recovery from logging or natural disasters like flooding or wildfires. Work done under the leadership of the University of Maryland demonstrates how the use of such drones has led to better data on the extent of deforestation in the Amazon basin, allowing for better management policies to be implemented (Tyukavina et al., 2017).

    Lastly, drones can help protect the environment through precision agriculture. Drones can utilize a variety of sensors to measure soil moisture and nutrient levels, allowing farmers to pinpoint the resources needed in specific locations. This technology can allow farmers to save an immense amount of water and greatly reduce the use of chemicals to increase crop yields. Such strategies allow farmers to grow more food with fewer resources, increasing their profits, making food cheaper, and protecting the environment, in turn making farming more efficient and sustainable. Studies have already demonstrated how drones can be used to increase production while reducing environmental impact (Rejeb et  al., 2022).

   Drones can be great assets in our mission to save our environment. From protecting diversity to increasing the food supply while reducing negative impacts, drones are amazing helpers that can benefit everyone from conservationists to consumers. As UAV technology continues to improve, we can expect the scope of the missions.that we assign to drones will continue to grow, and that our conservation efforts will continue to improve. al , (2022).

"Technology is best when it brings people together"

-Matt Mullenweg

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