Drones to Fight Forest Wildfires: New-Age Partners

We are in 2020! It’s the time from all the old futuristic movies with flying cars and similar-tone clothes. Well, at least we have these small and micro drones in the air making our lives better. They are even saving us from the full-effect of forest fires.

We have been talking about climate change for some time. We wouldn’t dive into that here. Rather than place blame, it’s important to find out better tech-backed applications to battle the natural and induced occurrences that cause loss of resources and lives.

The year 2019 saw major news movement on wildfires sweeping across the globe. California, Brazil and Australia to name a few. The Amazon wildfire made the world sit up in alarm. The rainforest plays an important role in checking global warming, often called the ‘lungs of the world’. Even though forest fires tend to be cyclical, the reasons may vary from natural to human-instigated.

Pollution: Carbon, Soot and Aerosols due to Wildfires

A wildfire risk management report by Verisk suggested that, in the US alone, 4.5 million properties are at high to extreme risk from forest fires. Australian wildfire (bushfires) from December 2019 set up a heatwave for neighbouring zones. Pollution is an obvious yet devastating collateral of such fires. Scientists estimate an annual emission rate of 8 billion tons of CO2 per year (over 20 years). Even when you counter the positive effects of new vegetative growth across the burnt forest area, the emissions still have grown 10-15% every year.

Dwindling Forested Watersheds: Far-reaching Implications

Forest wildfires affect the connected and dependent watersheds. Of the 230 major watersheds in the world, 40% have lost more than half of their forest cover. About 3/4th of accessible freshwater supply comes from forested watersheds. There have been many efforts towards establishing sustainable environments for these forest areas.

Drones to Fight Forest Wildfires: Saving Lives

Forest wildfires have a few positive and rehabilitative benefits. But there aren’t two ways about it, most wildfires need to be snuffed out or contained in time. Drones are the perfect ally for the brave firefighters at these ‘disaster management’ frontlines.

Small and micro unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) give the unmatched and accessible option for effective forest and wildlife management. These departments have been handling the management through direct investigations and inspections, sometimes supported by manned helicopters. In cases of wildfires, such manned aerial support becomes dangerous and tricky. Drones are the perfect alternative for these critical flights.

Drones help safeguard the lives of the firefighters. Between 2006 and 2016, the US Forest Service attributed 24% of loss of life (firefighters) to plane/helicopter crashes. The spend on fighting (preventing) forest wildfires stood at $2.4 billion in 2017. UAVs don’t just help keep firefighters out of harm’s way, but they also curtail the ballooning costs for the department.

Detect and Report: Drones give First Response Insights

Drones offer quick assessment and live reporting of susceptible dry shrubbery and bushes. Forest marshals and officials can guide their forces in pre-emptive activities to compartmentalize potential fires. The officials can demarcate the forest cover to identify the area that needs to be cleared (perhaps through controlled fires) to eliminate future wildfires.

Small drones have two-pronged benefits for forest and wildlife management. They can be used for surveillance and reconnaissance. These terms are often used interchangeably, but here they signify the usage based on intent. Drones can conduct detailed surveying and mapping of the vegetative and watershed status (and health). This surveillance is open-ended and can help create detailed 3D elevation or contour models for deeper assessment.

Drones used for reconnaissance suggest a targeted intent of finding more insights about a situation or area. Drones can be deployed over active fires as they build and engulf their surroundings. This helps the firefighters to plan their efforts and direct resources to the more critical and ‘turnkey’ spots. UAVs, here, help safeguard the lives of these firefighters but keeping them away from dangerous scenarios.

Live infrared or thermal assessment of an active fire, using a drone, can give actionable information about the growth pattern of the inferno. Firefighters and emergency response teams can identify higher risk surrounding areas and initiate timely interventions or evacuations.

Stopping Deforestation: Saving our Endangered Ecosystems with Drones

There are many reasons leading to forest wildfires. Some occur naturally like lighting; some occur due to mismanaged camps, partly extinguished cigarettes, etc.; and some reasons build over time to create a weaker ecosystem.

Rampant deforestation is threatening our critical rainforests. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the most endangered ecosystems, Cerrado savanna, is being corrupted by deforestation (primarily due to encroaching of farming land). The biodiversity of this area is unique as more than 40% of the flora and fauna species found here are totally indigenous to the zone. Yet, about half of the forest has already been wiped out. At a global scale, forest cover reduced from 31.6% (1990) to 30.7% (2016).

Regular automated drone flights can put a check on illegal deforestation. Operators can assign waypoints, locations the drones would fly across, to have constant updates about the wildlife and forest health. The drones enable high-end change detection capabilities through orthomosaic imagery and photogrammetry. Forest officials can detect even finer changes in the forest cover and take action against the encroachers. They can also detect poaching in time for officials to rally their troops.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to sustaining the longevity and vitality of our environment and resources. ideaForge has been continually evolving its drones for lighter weight and higher endurance to ensure universal manoeuvrability. They have vertical take-off and landing for total compatibility with any surrounding. These drones go a long way to give an extended dimension to the people keeping our forest and wildlife healthy and thriving.



October 2022

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