There is the moment after graduation when you finally realize why you have spent the last four years slaving over a computer in the library for hours until the sun came up, only taking short breaks for espresso and chocolate. This moment may not come right away, and sometimes it comes from experiences in your college career that you did not expect. I recently took a course in remote sensing just to fulfill my credit requirement to graduate. The moment of realization came to me when I was granted the opportunity to assist a team working to use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to capture hyperspectral imagery of the restoration sites. I know that does not sound very cool but in simpler terms, I got to walk through a muddy marsh to set up ground control points then witness a high tech drone fly over the same restoration site that I have been sifting through data for.
This is not your average drone from Walmart. The drone needs 6 battery packs, FAA clearance, and a licensed pilot to fly it. The drone has a camera which takes images of the ground with a pixel size of 2 inches. The hyperspectral camera processes 110 bands of spectral information from the ground below. To put this in perspective, Landsat, the satellite that orbits the earth capturing images only captures at most 8 bands of data with a ground sampling distance of 30 by 30 meters. In one flight line, the camera uploaded 32 gigabytes of data. Now that is a lot of data and those who know me know I LOVE DATA!
It is hard to imagine but it gets even cooler than this. Drones are banned from the national parks for numerous safety and environmental risks however; LEWI has been working with this team of scientists for two years to get the proper authorization to use a drone in the park in the name of SCIENCE. And after two years of paperwork, obtaining the proper signatures and licenses, the day finally came to fly!
Even after rolling around in mud through the wetland and watching the UAV take off; the best part about this project is what it means for the future of restoration. By using a hyperspectral camera to capture the spectral signatures of the various plants that exist in a site, the interpreter can determine the location, type, and health of the vegetation without getting on the ground for surveying. Using a drone to fly over a site would save time and people power while also accessing sites that may be too remote to get to. This also allows more of an inclusive approach to ecosystem restoration by encompassing the entire area for analysis rather than a centric ecosystem approach. I am fortunate to have this opportunity to work with talented people who have the same vision and passion for environmental stewardship and conservation as me. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
“Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make a difference.”