Cheap drones could revolutionize forest monitoring, but turbulence ahead

2 February 2015

LIMA, Peru—Sending small unmanned drones to fly over tropical forests has great potential for enhancing community-based forest monitoring—and in measuring carbon for climate change mitigation efforts, experts said at an event on the sidelines of the recent UN climate conference.

“They can monitor and measure many things, including carbon; they are fast; they’re cheap; they’re immediate—and they will save an enormous amount of drudgery and labor,” said Michael McCall, a senior researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) and one of the authors of a new paper on the subject.

The word “drone” has a certain amount of baggage—from its association with U.S. military operations—but these researchers believe their peaceful application can reap dividends for forest conservation and forest communities.

Monitoring changes in forest cover is also an essential part of REDD+, a results-based scheme that would reward communities for reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

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