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Monitoring Amazon tribes using satellite imagery

Satellite images of clearings and houses for sections of the five sites. From top to bottom are sites X, H, M, F1 and F2.

Brazil, November 5, 2015: Researchers claim satellite monitoring of "uncontacted tribes" of Amazon would be not only non-intrusive but safe, inexpensive and accurate. A team of researchers encompassing Robert S. Walker (Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia), Marcus J. Hamilton (Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, USA) Aaron A. Groth (Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin, USA) recently published the study in Royal Society Open Journal.

“In contrast to overflights and encounters on the ground, remote sensing with satellite imagery offers a safe, inexpensive, non-invasive and systematic approach to provide demographic and land-use information for isolated peoples. Satellite imagery can also be used to understand the growth of isolated villages over time,” the researchers told media.

Locations of isolated indigenous villages were pieced together from FUNAI reports and news stories stemming from overflights. At least five isolated communities were located in the border region between Brazil and Peru in the headwaters of the Envira River that correspond to confirmed locations released by FUNAI and that contain thatched roof houses. This region is the most monitored by FUNAI and hence population estimates are available from their frequent overflights. Landsat maps of recent deforestation and other satellite images with high resolution (e.g. TerraServer) were scoured for forest clearings.

The researchers also bought 50 cm resolution WorldView imagery of the five sites from DigitalGlobe and image analyst tool in ARCMAP was used to produce better images and measure houses.

The research was funded by a National Geographic Society Research and Exploration grant.

Source: Royal Society Open Science