Concept: Aerial photography
Despite concerted international effort to track and interpret shifts in the abundance and distribution of Adélie penguins, large populations continue to be identified. Here we report on a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance identified in the Danger Islands off the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP). We present the first complete census of Pygoscelis spp. penguins in the Danger Islands, estimated from a multi-modal survey consisting of direct ground counts and computer-automated counts of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery. Our survey reveals that the Danger Islands host 751,527 pairs of Adélie penguins, more than the rest of AP region combined, and include the third and fourth largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world. Our results validate the use of Landsat medium-resolution satellite imagery for the detection of new or unknown penguin colonies and highlight the utility of combining satellite imagery with ground and UAV surveys. The Danger Islands appear to have avoided recent declines documented on the Western AP and, because they are large and likely to remain an important hotspot for avian abundance under projected climate change, deserve special consideration in the negotiation and design of Marine Protected Areas in the region.
The abundant dinosaurian tracksites of the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian-Barremian) Broome Sandstone of the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia, form an important part of the West Kimberley National Heritage Place. Previous attempts to document these tracksites using traditional mapping techniques (e.g., surface overlays, transects and gridlines combined with conventional photography) have been hindered by the non-trivial challenges associated with working in this area, including, but not limited to: (1) the remoteness of many of the tracksites; (2) the occurrence of the majority of the tracksites in the intertidal zone; (3) the size and complexity of many of the tracksites, with some extending over several square kilometres. Using the historically significant and well-known dinosaurian tracksites at Minyirr (Gantheaume Point), we show how these issues can be overcome through the use of an integrated array of remote sensing tools. A combination of high-resolution aerial photography with both manned and unmanned aircraft, airborne and handheld high-resolution lidar imaging and handheld photography enabled the collection of large amounts of digital data from which 3D models of the tracksites at varying resolutions were constructed. The acquired data encompasses a very broad scale, from the sub-millimetre level that details individual tracks, to the multiple-kilometre level, which encompasses discontinuous tracksite exposures and large swathes of coastline. The former are useful for detailed ichnological work, while the latter are being employed to better understand the stratigraphic and temporal relationship between tracksites in a broader geological and palaeoecological context. These approaches and the data they can generate now provide a means through which digital conservation and temporal monitoring of the Dampier Peninsula’s dinosaurian tracksites can occur. As plans for the on-going management of the tracks in this area progress, analysis of the 3D data and 3D visualization will also likely provide an important means through which the broader public can experience these spectacular National Heritage listed landscapes.
Dryland biomes cover two-fifths of Earth’s land surface, but their forest area is poorly known. Here, we report an estimate of global forest extent in dryland biomes, based on analyzing more than 210,000 0.5-hectare sample plots through a photo-interpretation approach using large databases of satellite imagery at (i) very high spatial resolution and (ii) very high temporal resolution, which are available through the Google Earth platform. We show that in 2015, 1327 million hectares of drylands had more than 10% tree-cover, and 1079 million hectares comprised forest. Our estimate is 40 to 47% higher than previous estimates, corresponding to 467 million hectares of forest that have never been reported before. This increases current estimates of global forest cover by at least 9%.
Discrete trees and small groups of trees in nonforest settings are considered an essential resource around the world and are collectively referred to as trees outside forests (ToF). ToF provide important functions across the landscape, such as protecting soil and water resources, providing wildlife habitat, and improving farmstead energy efficiency and aesthetics. Despite the significance of ToF, forest and other natural resource inventory programs and geospatial land cover datasets that are available at a national scale do not include comprehensive information regarding ToF in the United States. Additional ground-based data collection and acquisition of specialized imagery to inventory these resources are expensive alternatives. As a potential solution, we identified two remote sensing-based approaches that use free high-resolution aerial imagery from the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) to map all tree cover in an agriculturally dominant landscape. We compared the results obtained using an unsupervised per-pixel classifier (independent component analysis-[ICA]) and an object-based image analysis (OBIA) procedure in Steele County, Minnesota, USA. Three types of accuracy assessments were used to evaluate how each method performed in terms of: (1) producing a county-level estimate of total tree-covered area, (2) correctly locating tree cover on the ground, and (3) how tree cover patch metrics computed from the classified outputs compared to those delineated by a human photo interpreter. Both approaches were found to be viable for mapping tree cover over a broad spatial extent and could serve to supplement ground-based inventory data. The ICA approach produced an estimate of total tree cover more similar to the photo-interpreted result, but the output from the OBIA method was more realistic in terms of describing the actual observed spatial pattern of tree cover.
Rapid 21st-century climate change may lead to large population decreases and extinction in tropical montane cloud forest species in the Andes. While prior research has focused on species migrations per se, ecotones may respond to different environmental factors than species. Even if species can migrate in response to climate change, if ecotones do not they can function as hard barriers to species migrations, making ecotone migrations central to understanding species persistence under scenarios of climate change. We examined a 42-year span of aerial photographs and high resolution satellite imagery to calculate migration rates of timberline-the grassland-forest ecotone-inside and outside of protected areas in the high Peruvian Andes. We found that timberline in protected areas was more likely to migrate upward in elevation than in areas with frequent cattle grazing and fire. However, rates in both protected (0.24 m yr(-1)) and unprotected (0.05 m yr(-1)) areas are only 0.5-2.3% of the rates needed to stay in equilibrium with projected climate by 2100. These ecotone migration rates are 12.5 to 110 times slower than the observed species migration rates within the same forest, suggesting a barrier to migration for mid- and high-elevation species. We anticipate that the ecotone will be a hard barrier to migration under future climate change, leading to drastic population and biodiversity losses in the region unless intensive management steps are taken.
OpenStreetMap, a crowdsourced geographic database, provides the only global-level, openly licensed source of geospatial road data, and the only national-level source in many countries. However, researchers, policy makers, and citizens who want to make use of OpenStreetMap (OSM) have little information about whether it can be relied upon in a particular geographic setting. In this paper, we use two complementary, independent methods to assess the completeness of OSM road data in each country in the world. First, we undertake a visual assessment of OSM data against satellite imagery, which provides the input for estimates based on a multilevel regression and poststratification model. Second, we fit sigmoid curves to the cumulative length of contributions, and use them to estimate the saturation level for each country. Both techniques may have more general use for assessing the development and saturation of crowd-sourced data. Our results show that in many places, researchers and policymakers can rely on the completeness of OSM, or will soon be able to do so. We find (i) that globally, OSM is ∼83% complete, and more than 40% of countries-including several in the developing world-have a fully mapped street network; (ii) that well-governed countries with good Internet access tend to be more complete, and that completeness has a U-shaped relationship with population density-both sparsely populated areas and dense cities are the best mapped; and (iii) that existing global datasets used by the World Bank undercount roads by more than 30%.
Development of efficient techniques for monitoring wildlife is a priority in the Arctic, where the impacts of climate change are acute and remoteness and logistical constraints hinder access. We evaluated high resolution satellite imagery as a tool to track the distribution and abundance of polar bears. We examined satellite images of a small island in Foxe Basin, Canada, occupied by a high density of bears during the summer ice-free season. Bears were distinguished from other light-colored spots by comparing images collected on different dates. A sample of ground-truthed points demonstrated that we accurately classified bears. Independent observers reviewed images and a population estimate was obtained using mark-recapture models. This estimate ([Formula: see text]: 94; 95% Confidence Interval: 92-105) was remarkably similar to an abundance estimate derived from a line transect aerial survey conducted a few days earlier ([Formula: see text]: 102; 95% CI: 69-152). Our findings suggest that satellite imagery is a promising tool for monitoring polar bears on land, with implications for use with other Arctic wildlife. Large scale applications may require development of automated detection processes to expedite review and analysis. Future research should assess the utility of multi-spectral imagery and examine sites with different environmental characteristics.
This manuscript describes the development of an android-based smartphone application for capturing aerial photographs and spatial metadata automatically, for use in grassroots mapping applications. The aim of the project was to exploit the plethora of on-board sensors within modern smartphones (accelerometer, GPS, compass, camera) to generate ready-to-use spatial data from lightweight aerial platforms such as drones or kites. A visual coding ‘scheme blocks’ framework was used to build the application (‘app’), so that users could customise their own data capture tools in the field. The paper reports on the coding framework, then shows the results of test flights from kites and lightweight drones and finally shows how open-source geospatial toolkits were used to generate geographical information system (GIS)-ready GeoTIFF images from the metadata stored by the app. Two Android smartphones were used in testing-a high specification OnePlus One handset and a lower cost Acer Liquid Z3 handset, to test the operational limits of the app on phones with different sensor sets. We demonstrate that best results were obtained when the phone was attached to a stable single line kite or to a gliding drone. Results show that engine or motor vibrations from powered aircraft required dampening to ensure capture of high quality images. We demonstrate how the products generated from the open-source processing workflow are easily used in GIS. The app can be downloaded freely from the Google store by searching for ‘UAV toolkit’ (UAV toolkit 2016), and used wherever an Android smartphone and aerial platform are available to deliver rapid spatial data (e.g. in supporting decision-making in humanitarian disaster-relief zones, in teaching or for grassroots remote sensing and democratic mapping).
Quantum annealing is an experimental and potentially breakthrough computational technology for handling hard optimization problems, including problems of computer vision. We present a case study in training a production-scale classifier of tree cover in remote sensing imagery, using early-generation quantum annealing hardware built by D-wave Systems, Inc. Beginning within a known boosting framework, we train decision stumps on texture features and vegetation indices extracted from four-band, one-meter-resolution aerial imagery from the state of California. We then impose a regulated quadratic training objective to select an optimal voting subset from among these stumps. The votes of the subset define the classifier. For optimization, the logical variables in the objective function map to quantum bits in the hardware device, while quadratic couplings encode as the strength of physical interactions between the quantum bits. Hardware design limits the number of couplings between these basic physical entities to five or six. To account for this limitation in mapping large problems to the hardware architecture, we propose a truncation and rescaling of the training objective through a trainable metaparameter. The boosting process on our basic 108- and 508-variable problems, thus constituted, returns classifiers that incorporate a diverse range of color- and texture-based metrics and discriminate tree cover with accuracies as high as 92% in validation and 90% on a test scene encompassing the open space preserves and dense suburban build of Mill Valley, CA.
Understanding the age structure of vegetation is important for effective land management, especially in fire-prone landscapes where the effects of fire can persist for decades and centuries. In many parts of the world, such information is limited due to an inability to map disturbance histories before the availability of satellite images (~1972). Here, we describe a method for creating a spatial model of the age structure of canopy species that established pre-1972. We built predictive neural network models based on remotely sensed data and ecological field survey data. These models determined the relationship between sites of known fire age and remotely sensed data. The predictive model was applied across a 104,000 km2 study region in semi-arid Australia to create a spatial model of vegetation age structure, which is primarily the result of stand-replacing fires which occurred before 1972. An assessment of the predictive capacity of the model using independent validation data showed a significant correlation (rs = 0.64) between predicted and known age at test sites. Application of the model provides valuable insights into the distribution of vegetation age-classes and fire history in the study region. This is a relatively straightforward method which uses widely available data sources that can be applied in other regions to predict age-class distribution beyond the limits imposed by satellite imagery.