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Scientists Use Movie Drones To Study The Rainforest Up Close

With the new options they provide, drones have made a major impact on filmmaking in recent years. Now researchers from Harvard University are using drones built to film big-budget movies to study the Amazon rainforest up close in new ways.

Technically called “unmanned arial vehicles” or “UAVs” the drones in question are powerful, rugged machines. Outfitted with six blades these so-called “hexacopters” are equipped to deal with the intense heat and humidity of the rainforest, making them perfect for gathering the sort of data scientists are interested in in the Amazon.

Intriguingly the drones aren’t being used to capture photos and videos as you might expect, but rather are being outfitted with devices that track the chemicals emitted by trees in response to stress. This data allows scientist to monitor the effects of climate change, among other things.

As Scot Martin, a professor at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences who’s part of the team conducting the research, told the Good News Network:

“Instead of filming or taking pictures, scientists attach a one-kilogram chemical-sensing package to the front. [The package] is like an electronic nose sensing the forest.”

According to the Good News Network:

“Every plant on earth emits unique vapors, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can fluctuate when they are exposed to stressors such as floods and droughts. Sensors attached to the drones can monitor these VOCs, to determine how the plants’ health is adapting to such stressors as climate change and extreme weather.”

The drones take off from observation towers situated throughout the Amazon and give scientists a new way to gather data that Martin says he thinks will play an increasingly important research role, saying: “I expect that drones will be used in scientists’ tool chests more and more around the world in the future.”

You can watch a video about this groundbreaking, drone-assisted research below.

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