Satellite map shows the impact of humans on Earth over 20 years

The coronavirus pandemic has forced researchers to switch to another job or temporarily abandon

projects due to health safety protocolsor inability to travel. But for Patrick Keys and Elizabeth Barnes, husband and wife of Colorado State University (CSU) scientists, the past year has been a fruitful one. The fact is that they teamed up with Neil Carter, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, to work on an article published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. In it, the authors of the study talk about the creation of a satellite map of anthropogenic impact on the regions of the planet.

Scientists have used machine learning tocreating an atlas that shows exactly where in the world there have been dramatic changes in the landscape. The map shows the impacts of deforestation, mining, expansion of road networks, urbanization and agricultural growth.

Human Footprint Index (HFI) - broadlya tool used to interpret the increasing pressure of humanity on Earth. Until now, the process of creating an HFI has required significant data and modeling, and updated versions of the index are often many years behind today. In the new paper, scientists presented a global machine learning-based HFI (ml-HFI) that can be regularly updated using only satellite imagery. In the study, scientists presented the latest HFI map and documented changes in human influence on nature over the past 20 years (2000 to 2019).

Countries with a green outline reachprogress towards SDG 15. Boxes provide examples of increasing human pressures and related functions used by CNN to identify human activities. Courtesy of: Environmental Research Letters (2021). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / abe00a

“The map we have developed can help peopleunderstand the important issues of biodiversity conservation and sustainability in general, ”said Keyes, Lead Author and Research Fellow at CSU's School of Global Environmental Sustainability.

Cards of this type can be used fortracking progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15 (SDG 15), Life on Earth, which aims to conserve biodiversity.

The Human Footprint Index (HFI), a measure of anthropogenic impact on the landscape on a scale from 0 to 1. Courtesy of: Environmental Research Letters (2021). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / abe00a

For their map, the researchers created a convolutionala neural network (CNN) that is commonly used to interpret images. This is similar to how Facebook works when the site offers to tag friends in a photo.

When developing the algorithm, scientists usedexisting data that have classified human impact on the planet. These include factors such as roads and buildings, as well as pastures for livestock and deforestation. The convolutional neural network then learned how to accurately interpret satellite images based on this existing data.

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