Scientists combine both x-ray techniques and satellite data for environmental forensics

Image above: PlanetScope image of Alto Araguaia, Brazil taken November 25, 2022. © 2022, Planet Labs PBC. All Rights Reserved.

Soybean production in Brazil has significantly increased over the last twenty years as a result of national and international demand. Following harvest, trucks and trains transport this popular crop to designated shipment locations. However, in the transit process, some soy grains fall out of the vehicles along the road due to overloading, failures in truck trailers, or in the loading and unloading of vehicles. Fertilizers and pesticides used to farm this soy can contain heavy metals which can ultimately cause environmental ecotoxicity if not properly contained. In Brazil, chemical residues have been reported to contaminate the environment where soybeans have fallen out of trucks and this has led to the killing of local Brazilian savannah trees. To better understand the impacts of soy crop run-off, a study led by Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso and Universidade de São Paulo used x-ray densitometry and microfluorescence (XRF) techniques to analyze bark samples from both dead and living trees to observe chemical changes impacting cell production and tree growth in regions with soybean residue accumulation. The researchers also confirmed their temporal analysis of when the mass tree death occurred using PlanetScope satellite data. One of the research study sites was Alto Araguaia, Brazil, where multilevel farms were adjacent to these trees (seen above in the satellite image.) This unique study demonstrated how the combined research methods of microscopic scale X-ray techniques as well as satellite data observations can be used to evaluate environmental impacts. 

The full study can be found in Environmental Nanotechnology, Monitoring, and Management.