Aerial Seed Bombers Can Plant 1,000,000 Trees A Day

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Deforestation is stripping the Earth’s forests at an alarming rate, and this includes more than 100 plant, animal, and insect species as well. 

Thankfully the worlds of military aviation and rainforest conservation have collided to create “seed bombers”, also known as aerial reforestation. The idea is to use planes to drop pointed containers with saplings inside, and this practice could see nearly one million trees planted every single day.

The “seed bombs” are typically compressed bundles of soil containing live vegetation, which are ready to grow as soon they hit the ground.

Forests are to be created by dropping millions of trees out of aircraft. Equipment installed in the huge C-130 transport aircraft used by the military for laying carpets of landmines across combat zones has been adapted to deposit the trees in remote areas including parts of Scotland.

An idea, originally from a former RAF pilot, Jack Walters, of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, has been developed by the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin Aerospace so that 900,000 young trees can be planted in a day.

In an interview with The Guardian back in 1999 Peter Simmons, from Lockheed, said:

“Equipment we developed for precision planting of fields of landmines can be adapted easily for planting trees.

“The possibilities are amazing. We can fly at 1,000ft at 130 knots planting more than 3,000 cones a minute in a pattern across the landscape – just as we did with landmines, but in this case each cone contains a sapling. That’s 125,000 trees for each sortie and 900,000 trees in a day.”

A few years ago, Moshe Alamaro, then a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, further developed the work of Walters and Simmons by creating what are called conical canisters.

The canisters are made of a starchy biodegradable material containing a seedling packed in soil and nutrients. Then the canisters decompose, and the young trees take root.

Alamaro uses a combination of ballistics and navigation technology to place the saplings accurately. His canisters are strong enough to withstand the impact but still decompose quickly.

Moreover, Alamaro’s system is overseen by an airborne surveillance system, which guarantees safety and also monitors the early growth of the trees.

He said that:

“If we are going to combat global warming by collecting carbon in the wood of trees, we will want millions of them a year. Airborne planting is probably the only way.”

A series of unsuccessful experiments along similar lines were done in the Scottish highlands and in Canada. Ariel reforestation doesn’t always have as high of a success rate as manual methods. This is because its effectiveness depends on several factors such as using the right type of seeds, distributing those seeds during the appropriate season and releasing them at the right moment and in the right location.

Another issue is predation: the efforts after  were stopped because the dropped seeds ended up feeding mice local wildlife rather than growing into trees. If it’s done right, though, reforestation by air can have a success rate as high as 70 percent

Thankfully the process is back in use again and the Thai government has initiated a five-year pilot project that uses aerial reforestation to boost forest regeneration over deteriorated forests.

To find out more about the Thai plot project and ariel reforestation check out the video below.

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Video Credit: News Direct from YouTube.

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  1. BioCarbon engineering are also trying, but nothing is near scale-up ready yet. We have functional chainsaw-carrying drones before tree planting ones. Sad.

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