AWS Public Sector Blog

Using the AWS Cloud to restore ecosystems around the world

Dendra Systems is a technology-enabled service provider addressing restoration of natural ecosystems globally. The company developed an automation and intelligence solution to support large-scale restoration of natural ecosystems, the protection of our climate, and the sustainability of our natural world.

As part of the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative, we invited Kelly Wanser, Board Director at Dendra Systems, to share how the organization is using Amazon Web Services (AWS) and big data to provide insights that help assess and restore at-risk ecosystems.

The world needs more (than) trees

The world’s forests have decreased by nearly half since the onset of human civilization. Deforestation is continuing at a high rate due to agricultural pressure, poor land management, and climate change, which increases drought, disease, and invasive species. Climate change also creates drier conditions and stronger winds that increase and intensify forest fires. Fires are part of the natural cycle for many ecosystems, but, for example, the bushfires in Australia over the 2019-2020 fire season have been more intense and extensive than any in the country’s recorded history, burning more than 46 million acres of land. Vast areas that were not expected to burn have done so, and immense native ecosystems—and their animal inhabitants—have been lost.

Vegetation is healthiest in its natural habitat, with other native plants and animals, environmental conditions, and soils. These habitats—including forests and coastal ecosystems—are important because they support the diverse array of life that sustains humans and other species, through physical, chemical, and biological interactions. Trees, mangroves, and other plants capture and store greenhouse gases as they grow—a powerful and essential part of a healthy climate.

To capture enough greenhouse gases to slow climate change, the world needs to add these native ecosystems in massive quantities. That means we cannot simply “plant trees.” We must also restore and expand native forests and terrestrial ecosystems.

New superpowers for nature: Data and automation

Today, conservationists and land managers have limited data available to do their work—generally only what can be produced by limited local sampling or relatively low-resolution satellite images. This lack of information limits their ability to assess health, analyze risks, optimize management, or quantify outcomes like biodiversity or carbon capture for these ecosystems.

But a new generation of technologies is transforming our ability to manage and grow forests. The unprecedented level of data enables ecology-trained artificial intelligence (AI) to inventory the ecosystem and identify problems like plant condition stress, invasive weeds, species decline, and erosion. The use of AI—like Dendra Systems SK.AI platform—is the basis for an innovative way of managing and restoring forests and ecosystems. These analytics can find individual animals across an entire landscape, slight differences in vegetation, and even individual plant species—impossible with space-based imaging or instruments on the ground.

Over time, this data-rich platform can optimize the health of an ecosystem and quantify its biodiversity, carbon capture, and other performance. This quantification can provide a strong basis for financial mechanisms—including carbon credits or other incentives—for restoration.

An intelligent system like the SK.AI platform can recommend management protocols and drive automated actions like aerial planting, where drones spread optimized mixtures of seeds or pressure deliver seeds into soft earth. It can do this hundreds of times faster than traditional manual planting, with greater access to remote, steep, wet, and hard to reach places.

Using this technology, Dendra Systems began commercial operations in Australia in 2017 to help companies restore natural lands to improve the effectiveness, safety, and speed of restoration. With experience applying advanced technologies to real-world operations on the ground, Dendra can help Australia recover and protect fire-ravaged and vulnerable public lands with technology for fire-risk assessment, post-fire regeneration assessment, and rapid aerial infill seeding to prevent the degradation of landscapes.

Cloud for nature

Growing volumes of data, complex analytics, and global operations require high-performance infrastructure with wide geographical reach. The AWS Cloud provides the scale, performance, and tools that enable Dendra Systems to deliver intelligent, automated “ecosystem-as-a-service” to stakeholders around the world.

The company uses Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) to host servers for production, staging, and machine learning processing and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for data storage. An Amazon CloudFront content distribution network optimizes performance for users around the world accessing centrally hosted content to maximize upload speeds.

The high-performance cloud platform enables rapid integration of the third-party datasets available through the Registry of Open Data on AWS, including Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 satellite data, to enhance the system’s intelligence. The centralized cloud environment also enables the company to use crowd sourcing, in which scientists identify species and features that help train its AI system and in the future will support open access to data for scientific analyses of public lands.

Over time, these capabilities will enable Dendra Systems to transform the management of natural systems to support governments, companies and communities in delivering a better climate and more sustainable world.

Learn more about Dendra Systems and check out more ASDI and Earth observation stories.

Kelly Wanser

Kelly Wanser

Kelly Wanser is Board Director of Dendra Systems and Executive Director of SilverLining, a policy and advocacy organization founded in 2018 to advance research in near-term responses to climate change. Kelly is a technologist and executive whose work emphasizes the application of advanced technologies to understanding and responding to climate change. She is lead author of a comprehensive report, “Ensuring a Safe Climate: National Priorities for Research in Climate Intervention and Earth Systems Prediction,” and delivered a 2019 TED Talk “Emergency Medicine for Our Climate Fever.” She is a member of the President’s Circle of the National Academy of Science and previously served as senior advisor to Ocean Conservancy on efforts in ocean-climate risk and to the Laser Inertial Fusion Energy Program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Follow her on Twitter: @kellywanser