Dec 06.2021

Digitizing Forests with The Internet of Things

Digitizing Forests with The Internet of Things

Today, forests are facing significant risks, thanks to climate change and increasingly threatening human activity. This article discusses how the Internet of Things can help conserve these valuable ecosystems.

Forests and grasslands cover approximately 40% of the Earth's land. These ecosystems are home to countless species and play a vital role in human life, from providing breathable air to supplying natural medicines. They also offer valuable services like water filtration and erosion prevention.

However, forests around the world face serious threats. Urbanization, invasive alien species, and the unsustainable harvesting of wood and non-wood products have slowly and steadily shrunk forested areas. Meanwhile, climate change has caused dramatic alterations in precipitation regimes and temperatures, resulting in more frequent and intense wildfires, droughts, and insect outbreaks.

In response, scientists and conservationists are turning to new technologies to improve their understanding of forest ecosystems and develop effective strategies for protecting and restoring them.

Thanks to its ability to monitor conditions in real-time and collect actionable data, the Internet of Things has proven tremendously useful in improving forest ecosystems. Today's post explores the remarkable possibilities for IoT in forest conservation.

How Can IoT Reinforce Forest Conservation

The Internet of Things is a network of electronics, physical objects, and software interfaces on which all devices can collect and exchange data with each other.

The potential for IoT to improve forest ecosystems is vast and expanding rapidly. Below are five intriguing ways IoT can help save global forests.

1. Monitoring the Impact of Climate Change

Climate directly influences forest health and growth. Therefore, it is not surprising that changing climatic conditions pose significant risks to their survival.

Global warming increases the risk of drought in certain areas and high precipitation in others, causing extensive damage to forests. Climate change also encourages disturbances like insect infestation, invasive species, and wildfires, adversely affecting forest productivity and tree distribution.

The Internet of Things can significantly enhance the monitoring of environmental parameters like temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, and air quality. With IoT sensors, forest managers can get real-time visibility into how changing conditions impact forests and develop insightful status reports to push stakeholders toward more vigorous climate action.

Furthermore, using IoT to track the effects of climate change on forests can help pinpoint the most vulnerable species and kickstart reclamation efforts long before variants go extinct. Research teams can also use IoT climate data to develop more resilient plant species and reclaim lost forest land.

2. Combating Illegal Logging

Deforestation is a global problem that destroys natural habitats, degrades soil quality, and displaces communities. It is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which are discharged during forest biomass combustion and plant decomposition. According to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, deforestation is the second-largest source of carbon emissions after fossil fuel combustion.

As a primary driver of deforestation, illegal logging is a worldwide scourge that significantly threatens forest ecosystems. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that as much as 30% of all timber traded globally is illegal, much of which comes from the rich forests of Madagascar, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil.

The Internet of Things can help combat illegal logging in several uniquely effective ways. For starters, sensors embedded in protected trees can detect deforestation as it happens, enabling forest rangers to respond quickly. They can also track wood as it moves along the supply chain, helping authorities identify and shut down key players in the illegal logging market.

Additionally, drone cameras can help create accurate, dynamic maps that reveal sections suffering from illegal logging. These maps can also show early signs of human encroachment, giving forest administrators enough time to implement impactful solutions.

3. Fighting Wildfires

Wildfires are an inherent feature of forest ecosystems, especially in areas with warm climates and strong winds. However, their frequency and intensity have increased dramatically in recent years.

From the millions of Australian acres scorched in 2019 and 2020 to the record amount of carbon emissions released from wildfires in Siberia in 2021, wildfires have gone from contained natural occurrences to crisis-level events.

Wildfire occurrence and spread depend on several factors, including temperature, moisture, and plant condition. With IoT systems, forest managers can get real-time data on such parameters and develop targeted wildfire prevention plans.

Besides supporting proactive actions, IoT can also be incredibly useful in fighting fires when they occur. For instance, IoT devices on drones or helicopters can help firefighters pinpoint vulnerable areas, the hottest sections, and the best access points. Meanwhile, combining data from weather monitoring devices with local terrain conditions can help accurately predict spread patterns, enabling personnel to get ahead of the fire.

4. Detecting and Tracking Invasive Species

Dominant non-native species can be a significant threat to forest health. These species are often brought in unintentionally through the international movement of people and products. Without their natural predators and competitors, they can quickly overrun native species, affecting the entire ecosystem.

One infamous example of invasive species is cheatgrass. Originating from Europe in the late 1800s, cheatgrass is now present in at least 49 U.S. states. In addition to fueling raging wildfires, cheatgrass' shallow roots absorb water and nutrients before they sink deeper into the soil, starving other plants.

Although people could do little to counter the cheatgrass onslaught in the 1800s, we can do a lot more today with technology. Conservationists can use various IoT devices to detect and track the spread of such invasive species and implement targeted control efforts.

For instance, sensors attached to drones can monitor large areas and identify new infestations with greater accuracy than ever before. Soil content classifiers can even offer real-time moisture and nutrient composition data, enabling forest managers to detect variations and quickly link them to potential invaders.

5. Improving Land Management Decisions

Forest ecosystems are incredibly complex and managing them requires making critical decisions that affect numerous stakeholders. With IoT devices, forest managers can gather all the data they need to make well-informed, all-encompassing decisions.

For example, actively monitoring the impact of human activities like logging, grazing, and cultivation on the surrounding environment can help administrators implement solid policies that strike a proper balance between conservation and economic development.

Additionally, using IoT data in predictive, AI-powered analysis can enable authorities to develop models that predict how different land-use decisions will affect the ecosystem down the road. That way, they can make long-term conservation plans instead of only reacting to immediate concerns.

No Time to Waste

Global forests are under immense pressure, with an area the size of Denmark disappearing annually. The good news is that we now have the technology to help us protect these vital ecosystems. With the Internet of Things, we can actively monitor the impact of climate change on forests, effectively combat deforestation, mitigate wildfires, enhance the tracking of invasive species, and improve land utilization decisions.

If you are in forest conservation, your project has a lot to gain from IoT solutions. Create an account on IoT2Market today and start exploring the latest IoT products for forest conservation.

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