News

Surveying Antarctic Predators to Inform Fisheries Management

Article and Figures Provided By Douglas Kraus (NMFS/AERD)

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NOAA Fisheries’ Antarctic Ecosystem Research Division (AERD) studies and monitors several species of seals and penguins that are indicators of the health of the regional fishery for Antarctic krill. Krill are the focus of an expanding international fishery in the Antarctic, but are also a fundamental food source for the region’s fish, marine mammals, and birds. Accurate census counts and measurements of body condition are fundamental to seal and penguin population management, but can be difficult to obtain in remote polar environments. Funding from the UAS Program Office partially supports said studies.

 

Rapid Detection of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Waters Nearshore Using sUAS

Article and Figure Provided by: Rick Stumpf (NOS)

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Several algal blooms around the U.S. produce biotoxins that pose significant risks to human health and marine life.  In recent years, these harmful algal blooms (HABs) have caused unprecedented impacts on coastal communities and the tourism, recreation and fishing businesses that support them. In Florida, for example, a recent (2017-2018) “red tide” lasted more than a year and ultimately impacted most of the Florida coast line, creating devastating impacts for fishermen, tourism, and local (beachside) businesses.

Using sUAS (small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) deployed with HAB sensors, we are working to develop and demonstrate a rapid, cost-effective response capability in order to more quickly and accurately know the location of bloom patches.

Developing a UAS-Based Approach for Surveying Northern Fur Seals in Alaska

Article and Figures Provided By: Katie Sweeney (AFSC/MML)

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The northern fur seal population in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska has experienced drastic declines. In 2018, St. Paul Island fur seals reached the lowest pup production levels since 1915, while pup abundance in the Pribilof Islands has declined 50 percent since 1998. It is imperative that NOAA Fisheries continue to monitor and document this decline to identify potential threats to recovery and inform management decisions. Currently, population estimates are derived from biennial pup abundance surveys and are conducted on the ground, requiring the participation of more than 20 researchers and support staff for up to 21 days. This method is costly, labor intensive, and involves disturbing the entire population of fur seals on both islands—an estimated 100,000 pups and many more adults and juveniles.

In partnership with the UAS Program Office, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Laboratory (MML) is working towards developing a survey approach using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

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).

DRONE TRAINS ITS EYES ON FLOOD WATERS TO IMPROVE FORECASTS

ARTICLE BY MONICA ALLEN, NOAA COMMUNICATIONS, AND PHOTOS / FIGURES FROM ROBERT MOORHEAD, DIRECTOR OF NORTHERN GULF INSTITUTE

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As the Yalobusha River rose around Greenwood, Mississippi, during a major rainstorm in late February, scientists from the Northern Gulf Institute at Mississippi State University deployed a small unmanned plane that took high-resolution images of rising waters and beamed them back in real time to NOAA weather forecasters.

We were able to see the water as it rose over the course of two days, which helped our office confirm when the crest had been reached,” said Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at the NOAA National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana. “This visual information really helps us improve our forecasts so we can provide critical information to those in an affected area.” Scientists piloted the 8.5-foot long by 14-foot wide Griffon Outlaw G2E unmanned plane from MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Center in Starkville, Mississippi, equipped with the Overwatch Imaging TK-5 payload -- a system able to take, process and transmit images with 6-inch resolution when flying 4,500 feet above the ground.

The images (Figures 1 and 2) typical real time images for NOAA and FEMA were transmitted to the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at MSU, and could be immediately downloaded by NOAA’s NWS Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. NOAA forecasters used the information to refine forecasts that are vital to local emergency managers, the public and the area’s farmers.

In a parallel effort, the data was also downloaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 4 for real-time examination and assessment. “Aerial imagery and other data made available from unmanned aircraft systems is increasingly showing its value as a resource to provide our local, state, and federal emergency managers with actionable information needed to most effectively perform their duties,” said Travis Potter, Remote Sensing and UAS Coordinator for FEMA 4. “The information provided from this operation could be extremely useful toward helping folks on the ground to efficiently distribute resources, manage evacuations, and aid in future recovery efforts.”

Once the plane landed, scientists retrieved higher resolution images stored onboard that can now be used to improve flood prediction models.

“We’re really pleased with the results of this fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system,” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. “The unmanned aircraft and payload shows great potential to provide forecasters with valuable data to improve forecasts as well as flood models. We look forward to continuing to work with the Northern Gulf Institute and NOAA’s National Weather Service to transition the technology into operations."

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