Friday, February 24, 2017

AI Maps Biological Riches of the Rainforest

Peru’s forests cover 300,000 square miles, stretching from the hot Amazon lowlands to the snow-capped Andes mountains. Oil exploration, logging, ranching, illegal gold mining and, increasingly, palm oil plantations threaten this environment. In one area of the Amazon, deforestation has increased 500 percent since 2010. To understand and protect an area this vast, Asner and his team gather data from several miles above the forest in a twin-propeller plane, the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, rigged up with more than 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of high-tech sensors and a bank of computers. By measuring the concentration of chemicals such as carbon and nitrogen in tree foliage, the researchers identified 23 forest traits that show what strategies trees use to survive. Some species grow to survive, while others protect themselves with defensive chemicals.  Researchers trained their algorithms using the CUDA parallel computing platform, NVIDIA Tesla K80 GPU accelerators and cuDNN. They describe their findings in a recent paper in Science.