Up in the air - Scientists use drone to map trees in flood plain

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Scientists were at work Wednesday afternoon at the city’s reforest- ed area north of the Wabash River near the White Bridge, and they were using a new tool in their quest for knowledge: A drone.

 

Josip Adams holding controller with Shawn Meyer and Daniel Westrich
Josip Adams holds a controller and watches the drone fly off to the west, while Shawn Meyer actually guides the drone on his laptop under the canopy. At his right is Daniel Westrich. Adams is from the USGS office in Denver, while Meyer is from the USGS’s Indiana/Kentucky Water Science Center. Westrich and a fourth member of the team, Matthew Struckhoff, are from the USGS office in Columbia, Mo. (Photo by Dave Schultz)

(Story taken from The News-Banner, Bluffton, Indiana)

By Dave Schultz

The men flew over the site that the city of Bluffton took over 15 years ago, using it as a flood plain that would be reforested. The last tree was planted on the 140-acre site eight years ago, and the scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey were at the location with a drone, getting a bird’s-eye view of the place. The particular emphasis is on the trees.

It was actually a return trip for a USGS team to the reforested area. A group came last year and walked the site, looking for insects, small mammals, and plant life. Matthew Struckhoff was part of that group last year and returned this year.

Even with the drone, Struckhoff said, the team still walked and did its own survey work. The drone enhances that.The drone took off three or four times during a half-hour late Wednesday afternoon. Struckhoff said that there were five cameras with each photographing on a different wavelength on the color spectrum — red, green, blue, near infrared and “red edge” infrared. Those color images each provide information about the status of the land, much more than a sin- gle photograph would do.

“You can combine them and change them a little bit and get an idea of where plants are doing well and where they’re struggling,” he said.

The operation of the drone — Struckhoff referred to it as the unoccupied aerial system program — “is really in its infancy,” he said.

Struckhoff agreed. “A lot of money gets put into this type of activity,” he said. What they want to know, he said, is simple: “Is the resto- ration achieving what it was intended to do, to provide habitat for ‘critters’?” he asked. “We’re only 15 years in here, though. Are there ways to detect, in these early stages, whether or not they’re on the right path to achieve these objectives?”

When  asked  whether Bluffton’s reforested area is doing well, Struckhoff said it appears to be.

“I think the survival rates out here are very high, except this patch right here,” he said, pointing to a rather featureless area just off the entrance to the site on Elm Grove Road. “Overall, (survival rates are) very high, and the other sites where we’ve been looking at are also very high. So the methods that were used here seem to be working.”

Unmanned Aircraft System (Drone) preparing for landing
A drone glides in for a landing after a survey run over the reforested area north of the Wabash River and west of Wells County Road 450E and Elm Grove Road. (Photo by Dave Schultz)