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10 September 2015

University of North Dakota staff, students usher in new era of wildlife research using UX5

Robert "Rocky" Rockwell just completed his 47th summer studying snow geese and their impact on the fragile Hudson Bay coastline in Wapusk National Park near Churchill, Man., but this year's field season took the research to new heights.

As part of the Hudson Bay Project, a collaborative research program that includes partners from the U.S. and Canada, staff and students from the UND Biology Department spent several weeks at Rockwell's research camp on La Perouse Bay east of Churchill demonstrating how unmanned aircraft can be used to monitor the overabundant geese and the damage they're causing to the remote tundra landscape.

Where researchers historically have surveyed the area on foot, walking transect lines to count geese and measure vegetation while risking encounters with polar bears and grizzly bears, the UAV provided detailed imagery in a manner that not was only safer, but more efficient with less impact on the wildlife, Rockwell said.

 

"Essentially, you take a computer and pre-program it and say, 'I want it to fly this box, and I want it to start here,' " Susan Ellis-Felege, a wildlife ecologist and assistant professor said of the UAV. "It launches with a catapult, and it swings the aircraft out, and it goes and flies these transects, predetermined white lines that allow it to take a picture about every second and with a high amount of overlap so it can fix together a map with all the images.

"Susan convinced me to start with a science plan with UAV," Rockwell said. " Not just fly it because it's cool—let's have a plan of action.

 

During two trips to Hudson Bay in June and July, the UND crew conducted 87 flights, logging more than 54 hours of flight time and producing more than 80,000 aerial images.

"You could see a gosling. You're seeing small rocks on the ground," Corcoran said. "We did that for the duration of our time up there."

The original article is here

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