How Technology is Changing Vegetation Assessments

Vegetation assessments are carried out to guide policy on land use, bushfire management and environment conservation. The changing vegetation cover over different regions has made the assessment an expensive and involving process. Geoscience Australia places the country as the sixth largest land mass with an approximate area of 3 million square miles, a vast area to be covered by a group of scientists to map out its floral diversity.

Over the last two decades, technology has advanced at an unprecedented level. These advancements have been largely for communication and military use. But scientists have come up with ingenious ways of using the technology for other purposes like environmental management. One field that has benefited from this has been vegetation assessments. Here is a list of the most successful means:

Satellite Imagery

Satellites use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to conduct vegetation mapping. One satellite is capable of mapping the entire Australian land mass in a few hours. The collected data is used to compare vegetation in different regions. It also covers an area over a period, noting changes in the cover and type of vegetation in a zone. It has successfully been used to forecast vegetation patterns.

Aerial Photography

In the same way that satellite imagery maps the entire world, aerial photography maps specific regions. The planes fly close to earth and can take photos with finer details. These identify individual plant species and land use in the area.

Crowd Sourcing

Advancements in communication have enabled organizations to enlist the services of a large group of people. Farmers and communities living in a zone are engaged as data collectors where they identify different vegetation types and even take up-close photos in various seasons. Data collected from satellite and aerial photography is shared with experts around the world for analysis. This large pool of resources reduces the need to have a large workforce.

Pattern Recognition Software

Programmers have developed software that can recognize vegetation patterns from imaging data. The images are fed directly into the computer and compared to already analyzed data to create a vegetation map. The mobile app Plantsnap gives farmers a tool to identify different plants in their farms, which can help them do their job. 

The use of technology in vegetation assessments has reduced the money, manpower and time required for the exercise. The software analysis techniques ensure the data is more accurate and reliable, a welcome relief for many scientists and environmentalists.