Artificial Intelligence: AI Detects Illegal Roads In The Amazon Rainforest
Imazon, a Brazilian environmental non-profit, has created an algorithm for this purpose.
An investigation in 2016 by Imazon showed that the actual length of roads in the Brazilian Amazon biome was nearly 13 times higher than what was shown in official maps. These unofficial roads, most of them illegal, threaten the existence of the Amazon ecosystems. The researchers spotted these unreported roads by tracing lines on satellite images. (INSIDE SCIENCE)
However, that painstaking process has now been made automatic through the use of an AI algorithm.
Hidden roads in the Amazon
Illegal and unofficial roads often come up for reasons such as logging timber, mining, and agriculture. Mining companies build these roads to access remote projects, while timber companies direct their logging teams and machinery to areas targeted for deforestation. In some cases, these roads help to clear out forests. The emptied lands can then be sold to private owners.
While some of these roads may be legitimate, most are not.
“When we don’t have a good understanding of how many roadless areas we have on the landscape, we probably will misguide any conservation plans for that territory,” said Souza, a geographer at Imazon.
However, one painful fallout of these roads is the impact they have on further deforestation.
About 95% of deforestation in the Amazon occurs within 5.5 km of a road or 1 km of a river.
Further, about 95% of fires occur within 10 km of a road or river, according to research by Souza and his colleagues.
AI to save the Amazon biome
Scientists at Imazon used the earlier manual versions of areas mapped by hand to train an AI algorithm that would go on to detect these roads automatically.
The algorithm enables researchers to update their maps of the Amazon biome more frequently, accurately, and with ease.
On its first run, the algorithm works at about 70% accuracy. After some follow-on automated processing, that accuracy goes up to 87%-90%. Analysts then examine the findings from the algorithm by a detailed examination of the satellite images to confirm the existence of new roads.
These maps can now pinpoint where efforts are needed to protect the rainforest.
Related Story: Conglomerates Employ Technology To Track Deforestation
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