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Multi-spectral Imaging of Polar Bears at Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat

Article Provided By: Erin Moreland

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During the first week of April, NOAA researchers from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML) collected multi-spectral imagery of polar bears at the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat in Ontario, Canada. Color, infrared, and ultraviolet photos were collected using two APH-28 hexacopters. This ongoing work was partially funded by the UAS Program. One platform carried the FLIR Duo Pro R camera and the other carried a new UV payload (developed by Ben Hou at MML) paired with a color camera and laser altimeter. This imagery will help improve remote sensing of bears during aerial surveys for ice-associated seals and polar bears on the sea ice habitat of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas. The team also collected thermal data of resting bears and bears coming out of cold water to see how these behaviors affect the thermal signature detected from the airborne cameras. Multi-spectral imagery of bears on ice, in open snow fields, and near rocks will be used in the development of an automated bear detection model in support of upcoming international survey efforts of the Beaufort Sea for ice seals and polar bears.  NOAA’s Canadian partners primary focus is bears, so this work also helps build that partnership so we can get more meaningful seal data from the full Beaufort surveys. Polar bears are listed as threatened under the ESA (as are ringed and bearded seals).

NOAA Evaluates Using Drones for Lidar and Imagery in the National Estuarine Research

Article/Figures Provided By: Kirk Waters (OCM/NOS)

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Office for Coastal Management (OCM) scientists and their partners tested the utility of private sector drone technology to map marsh habitat in three estuarine research reserves. The team evaluated the quantitative spatial accuracy of both imagery and lidar products, as well as the qualitative gains for habitat mapping in multiple ecosystems.

Obtaining good solid earth elevation data is particularly difficult in dense marsh areas where it is also a critical component to understanding marsh vulnerability to sea level rise. The potential of lidar drone technology to penetrate to the ground with a smaller laser footprint and higher point density could provide a product that is currently unattainable from manned aircraft. Similarly, the detail in imagery that drone technology offers has the potential to provide finer delineations of habitat than the reserves have had from manned imagery. Contract spatial accuracy specifications were set at 10 cm root mean square error (RMSE) vertically for the lidar data and 15 cm RMSE horizontally for the imagery.

During the mission, Quantum Spatial and PrecisionHawk operated the drones, collected the data, and processed it. Staff from OCM and the three reserves (Jacques Cousteau, Grand Bay, and San Francisco Bay) collected independent ground-truth validation data and evaluated the drone deliverables. The two square mile area in San Francisco Bay reserve generated over 380,000 images and had lidar point density of over 400 points per square meter.

The two-year project (Fiscal Years 2016-2018) was funded by NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The project team includes partners from OCM, Jacque Cousteau NERR, Grand Bay NERR, San Francisco Bay NERR, Wells NERR, Quantum Spatial, and PrecisionHawk.

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