Recently, ARE partnered with Quantum Spatial, Inc. to complete a drone-based lidar scan of four locations within Great Bay, New Hampshire (my home), to support ongoing monitoring programs at Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR.) The scan was done to further establish baseline conditions and assist with tracking changes in vegetated subtidal (seagrass) and intertidal (salt marsh) habitats in the Great Bay Estuary.
The seagrass beds provide important habitats for a variety of fish and other animals. Declines in the spatial extent and biomass of seagrass have caused concern in recent years. The salt marshes represent key intertidal habitats for many species and have shown signs of ecological responses to climate change in recent years. The change can be seen in the bay from receding due to the changing precipitation regimes, nutrients, water levels, and temperature. (GreatBay.org)
In the spring of 2019, NOAA Office for Coastal Management (OCM) investigated the viability of using UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) technology to support the next round of high-resolution data collection via LiDAR to further this project. Quantum Spatial, Inc., a contractor for NOAA, chose to work with ARE to plan, mobilize, collect and deliver geospatial (lidar) data. This data would in turn process into accurate digital surface models (DSMs,) to further track elevational changes within the subtidal, intertidal and upland areas consisting of four total sites, each of them being roughly 50 acres in size.
ARE used the M600 aircraft equipped with a RIEGL Mini VUX lidar sensor to capture the requested point cloud. The project took four days to complete due to each individual site requiring low tide conditions for proper data acquisition. Fortunately, with each site located near the shoreline, line of sight was not an issue when flying at 200 feet. Clear skies, calm winds, and early communication with the nearby airport and FAA made for smooth field operations, and each site was successfully scanned and processed, producing point clouds with roughly 100 points per square meter within the area of interest. The lidar point clouds were submitted to Quantum Spatial and processed into final products.
The significance of this project is ARE’s ability to utilize UAS lidar technology in order to provide data for Great Bay to track aspects of climate change. With the ever-changing ecosystem, it’s important to document changes both caused by natural dynamic changes as well as those driven by human activity. Traditional data collection methods would have taken longer, been less dense, and potentially adversely impacted the research sites. The use of this UAS based lidar technology provided data to track the vegetated subtidal and intertidal habitats may indirectly help Great Bay NERR to protect the bay and ensure that it remains a national treasure for years to come.
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