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Monitoring Invasive Plant Species with Camera on Satellite

Can Satellite Cameras help Monitor Invasive Plant Species?

Invasive plant species cause absolute havoc on the environment. They destroy natural plants, disrupt the habit of animals, adversely affect soil and pollination, and can even lead to fires. Due to these negative impacts tracking invasive species is extremely important. However, monitoring invasive species can be difficult due to the manpower required and access to remote locations. This is where a camera on satellite can help save the day! In this article, we will explore how satellite cameras are protecting our plant and animal life.

How Does a Satellite Camera Work?

Satellite cameras are attached to satellites which are spacecraft that orbit the Earth. These satellites first need to be launched into orbit via a rocket. Once in orbit, satellite cameras scan the Earth back and forth and take a series of images. These images are then sent to Earth via radio antenna. The images are then uploaded to a computer and turned into comprehensible images.

How to use a camera on a satellite? The process of satellite imaging is remote and automatic. The satellite will be configured to take images based on a timeline. The camera measures the Sun’s emitted and Earth’s reflected radiation to produce an image of a specific area. These images can be used to detect invasive plant species from satellites or monitor the climate, agriculture, and human activity.

How to Track Invasive Plant Species With a Satellite Camera?

satellite camera
satellite camera

Satellite cameras can track invasive plant species by identifying them and helping scientists predict where they are likely to spread. Traditionally researchers would conduct on the ground surveys to study habitats and track invasive plant species. This method is very time-consuming, not always accurate, expensive due to the manpower required, and can be extremely challenging in remote locations. This is why scientists have started using remote sensing to map invasive species.

It is possible to identify and track invasive plant species using optical satellite images if the invasive plant species has unique characteristics which can be used to differentiate it from other noninvasive species. Landsat images with a 30m resolution are particularly effective at identifying invasive species. These images are now being used in conjunction with on-site land surveys, but scientists hope to rely more heavily on satellite images in the future.

Mapping invasive plant species can be extremely difficult because the differences between invasive and non-invasive plants are not always easy to see with the help of  satellite imaging. Scientists need to identify unique characteristics. For example, Paul Evangelista, a researcher at Colorado State University, tracked the invasive plant species, tamarisk, by noting this plant  was one of the first to lose its leaves. With this observation, Evangelist leveraged the vegetation index from Landsat 7 to map tamarisk accurately.

How to Prevent Spread of Invasive Plant Species Using Satellites?

To prevent the spread of nonnative plants, which can cost the US economy $120 billion per year, scientists are monitoring invasive species with hyperspectral satellite cameras. Predicting the spread is very challenged, but through the use of terrain and climate data, researchers can make reasonable assessments. In the case of tamarisk, scientists combined terrain and climate data with key insights about the invasive plant species; for example, it does not grow on slopes to produce a map of likely areas in the US where tamarisk could spread. These prediction maps are crucial in alerting agencies to the risk of an incoming invasive plant species and ensuring they can develop effective preventative strategies.

Is There New Satellite Technology Being Used to Track Invasive Plants?

Satellites are becoming smaller, cheaper to manufacture, and cheaper to launch. These declining costs have allowed companies and agencies to launch more satellites, build constellations, and produce a wide variety of satellite images. This range of satellite images has given researchers more in-depth data, which is helping them detect, track and map plants more effectively. As more spacecraft are launched, the data will only improve, and identification and mapping of invasive plants will become easier.

There are also some exciting new satellite missions that have the potential to help scientists track invasive plant species, notably the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission. The GEDI launched in 2018 features and can produce 3D maps of forests. The GEDI maps have already been used by scientists to identify birds. Researchers are hoping the data could also be leveraged to track invasive plants.

Final thoughts

Invasive species are causing over $100 billion worth of damage to the US economy every year as they destroy the environment and drive local plants and wildlife to extinction. Scientists are now using satellite cameras to track, map, and predict the spread of invasive plant species. As satellite imaging becomes more widespread, accurate, and cost-effective, researchers are hoping to manage plants more effectively. Please comment below on what invasive plant species you have in your local area.

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