Today’s Solutions: January 30, 2023

With software, taking something apart and putting it back together again can help engineers improve their understanding of the underlying source code of their software. In structural engineering, the same methods can determine the cause of potentially fatal design flaws.

This is known as reverse-engineering, in which a process is deconstructed to reveal its designs, architecture, and concepts within then rebuilt into something similar to our current level of technology. But while we might associate reverse-engineering with more technical fields, reverse-engineering is a central method being used by scientists to save the Amazon rainforest.

We’re all aware of how bad 2019 was for the Amazon. Media outlets reported Brazil’s largest rainforest played host to more than 80,000 individual forest fires in 2019, resulting in an estimated 906,000 square hectares of environmental destruction. At the time, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported it was the fastest rate of burning since record-keeping began in 2013.

But amid the charred ruins of one of the largest oxygen-producing environments on the planet, a secret lies buried beneath the soil. A complex network of seeds, scat, fungi, and fertilizers are already hard at work creating the next generation of tropical regeneration. It is this network that scientists are racing to understand—and fast. But locked in a race against time, politics, and climate change, the ways in which we might be able to reverse-engineer and recover our rainforests might surprise even the most stoic of environmental theorists.

For instance, scientists of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute are monitoring how trees in rainforest conditions grow at a microscopic level, measuring and quantifying the different interactions between plants, soils, and different levels of human activity to see how they directly affect rainforest health. They’re modeling potential solutions in real-time to reveal what exactly is happening above and below the ground in different stages of regeneration.

Reverse-engineering a rainforest is an incredible task as well as an incredible field of interest— one that, as a reader, is worthy of a deep educational dive. Follow the link here to take that dive with this incredible story from Engadget.

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