• Christine Querido Thaagaard

AI drone software to ensure a future for Arctic species


In partnership with the WWF, Robotto plans to create unique biodiversity drone software, supporting census operations for Arctic animal wildlife. One might wonder, why is an updated census of Arctic wildlife needed, and how can drone software help? In this article we dive into why biodiversity census operations are needed, and how Robotto’s AI-powered drone software can streamline this operation, making it not only more sustainable but more effective.

Climate Change in the Arctic

According to the WWF “The Arctic’s average temperature has already risen at a rate of almost three times the global average.” Warming faster than any other region on earth, the Arctic landscape, and ecosystem is experiencing an amplified change in climate, affecting traditional migration routes and behavior of herds across the region- the long-term effects of which are unknown. Disruption of traditional migration routes has proven to be detrimental for the Canadian Reindeer (Caribou), with an approximate loss of 90% of the total population.

An example of one of these populations is the Dolphin Strait reindeer. In spring, herds typically cross frozen waters, leading them to new grazing areas. Warmer temperatures, however, have begun to thaw these waters earlier in the season. Coupled with a “reduced amount of food in winter” the animals struggle to cross, leading to an increased “probability of them drowning in the crossing”. (Wegner, 2020)

This change in migration patterns places an added burden on specific geographical areas, putting the region’s vegetation at risk. The increase in vegetation consumption depletes vegetation resources at a hastened rate. Unlike vegetation in other regions, Arctic vegetation regenerates slower, thus, increased consumption of vegetation over a shorter period of time threatens the longevity of animal herds.

Greenlandic Musk Oxen

While the connection might seem distant, the story of Reindeer populations throughout the arctic raises alarm bells for other animal species in the region. Musk Oxen hold an important role among native communities, making the survival of the species through this difficult period of climate change of the utmost importance.

The WWF has identified Jameson Land in northeast Greenland as the project’s first focus area. More than 25% of the world’s Musk Oxen population live in the area, and the role of Musk Oxen as a key part of the community has been solidified over centuries. Traditionally, the climate of the area supports the oxen, with their thick woolen coat and massive makeup, allowing them to weather extreme arctic temperatures and storms. Climate change is, however, altering the Arctic ecosystem, shifting the landscape and climate of the animals’ natural habitat. Learning from the effect of climate change on the Reindeer population, the WWF is looking to increase the frequency in which biodiversity censuses are conducted. In doing so the organization will gain a better overview of the animal population, increasing the probability of successful partnerships with local authorities and interest groups, and ensuring the survival of a species.

It’s a balancing act

Balance is key, without it, animal populations can be thrown into disarray. Altered terrains and changes in weather patterns threaten this balance, putting the entire Arctic ecosystem in danger what WWF’s project coordinator for Greenland and the Arctic, Kaare Winther Hansen has identified as the two possible outcomes of climate change:

  1. Climate change has fostered an increase in the population. This increase in numbers has the potential to wear down Arctic vegetation, leading to extinction over time due to the elongated regeneration pattern.

  2. Climate change has been detrimental to the population, leading to a hastened extinction due to the lack of nutrients for increased numbers.

Understanding the animal population is the first step in ensuring climate change hasn’t altered this natural balance. Traditional animal censuses are conducted using helicopters and planes, with visual observers identifying animals. This method is not only time-consuming but costly to the environment as helicopters and planes require vast amounts of fuel, furthering emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

The last time census was conducted of the musk oxen population was in the year 2000. With no census planned in the future and warning signs from other Arctic animal populations, an alternative system is needed to detect which possible scenario the Musk Oxen are headed for.

Drones- ready for service

The partnership between the WWF and Robotto signifies a readiness to investigate how technology, specifically AI, can help reduce the reliance on traditional aerial surveillance methods, simplifying biodiversity management, and allowing for more frequent censuses.

Leveraging Robotto’s existing neural network and architecture, developers at Robotto will adjust and train the AI models to identify Musk Oxen, both individually and as herds. In addition to this, Robotto’s state-of-the-art flight path generator and autonomous flight capabilities, Robotto Aviator, will enable fixed-wing drones with a flight time of two to six hours to autonomously survey vast areas at an increased speed. The software will then compute the data, providing researchers with analyzed numbers; allowing them to fully understand the effects climate change has had on the animal population.

To learn more about this project, and other WWF projects please visit: https://wwf.dk/om-os/hvor-kaemper-vi/projekt-droner-taeller-moskusokser/



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