Illegal loggers forged into the sweltering depths of Brazil's Amazonian rain forest, near the Bolivian border, carving out new roads to smuggle precious hardwoods. In the wild, lawless region, there seemed little chance that they would be caught, and their new road system could have let them clear a lucrative 1500 km2 of forest.
But not this time. Far overhead, a satellite that feeds information into what's referred to as Sivam, the world's largest environmental monitoring system, gathered images that revealed deforestation in the region. Officials watching data flow into a regional data center in the distant Brazilian city of Manaus sent a plane to investigate. Equipped with multispectral sensors that can detect road-clearing equipment through tree cover, the plane let law enforcement officials collect enough evidence to arrest the loggers. ”We prevented a huge area from being deforested,” Augusto Queiroz, the executive director of the Manaus regional surveillance center, announced proudly the day after the arrests, in mid-June.
Queiroz runs one of three surveillance centers that are part of the System for the Vigilance of the Amazon, or Sivam, its Portuguese acronym. The other two centers, in Porto Velho and Belèm, are coming into operation this month and next.
A fire caused by farmers clearing land rages out of control in the Amazon state of Rondônia.
An elaborate environmental monitoring system paid for by Brazil, Sivam was built during the past six years by the U.S. defense electronics contractor Raytheon Co. (Lexington, Mass.) and two Brazilian outfits, Embraer (São José dos Campos) and Atech (São Paulo)--the former an aeronautics company that has supplied planes for Sivam, the latter the Brazilian system integrator.
The US $1.4 billion system pulls together information from over 500 monitoring devices, ranging from satellites to weather balloons covering 5.2 million km2 of the Amazon. System headquarters are going up in Brasília, the nation's capital, and final system tests on the integration of all the network's components are scheduled to begin in October or November, Greg Vuksich, president of Raytheon Brasil Sistemas, told IEEE Spectrum.
Fires and floods, development and drugs
Sivam is being built to do more than just prevent illegal logging, though that by itself is a big problem in the Amazon. Sivam will also monitor fires, floods, pollution, weather, and--not least--the status of land set aside for indigenous peoples. The idea is to feed a constant flow of critically important data to scientists and to public authorities responsible for regulating the development and protection of the rain forest that covers 61 percent of Brazil.
As a big bonus, Sivam will give Brazil complete control of its own airspace for the first time. This is important not only in the context of civil aviation and air defense, but especially in the fight against drug trafficking along the porous borders with Colombia and Peru, where clandestine airstrips and low-flying planes are key to the trade.
So far, Sivam consists of mobile and fixed radar systems, shared instruments aboard European and U.S. satellites, monitoring planes, various ground-based environmental sensors, and satellite and VHF communications equipment. Thus, weather and remote sensing satellites belonging to commercial agencies and foreign governments send images of the Amazon through Brazil's National Institute for Space Research. Meanwhile, air traffic radar systems at fixed and airborne locations scan the skies, while eight planes equipped with remote sensors fly over the forest to scope out specific areas of interest.
At the same time, environmental conditions are observed with some 200 floating data collection platforms in the Amazon River, over 80 weather stations, lightning-detecting stations, and other environmental sensors scattered throughout the region. And finally, over 900 stations containing a computer, telephone, fax, and satellite transmission antenna let people deputized in remote communities send and receive information about any threatening conditions.
All of this information is sent via satellite to one of the three regional data centers, where it is monitored and processed in real time. Government agencies and other organizations can then access the information on the Internet.