Updates June 2017

Greetings Everyone

Alberta, June 16 2017

As we have just embarked the third year of BERA, we would like to take the opportunity to provide a brief review of some of the BERA research activities since our BERA stakeholder workshop last November, and also give a quick overview of some of the exciting summer activities planned for this second BERA field season.   Specific notes on the status of individual lab members can be found below.

Over the past year, BERA team members have been very productive in continuing undergraduate honours and masters theses, and postdoctoral projects, processing and analyzing data, and disseminating results, as can be seen in the growing list of journal and conference publications; several manuscripts are still in the works…so please stay posted!   Our PhD students have also been very busy completing their proposals this spring, pushing forward innovative research approaches for boreal ecosystem recovery and assessment and are planning their field work this summer or are already in the field.

At last fall’s roundtable discussion at the stakeholder workshop, the BERA team was given valuable feedback which greatly validated our efforts but also assisted to further refine our converging objectives among the BERA labs.  Substantial effort went into broadening the range of conditions and technologies for our research approaches to vegetation monitoring on seismic lines and wellpads in order to enhance transferability and to facilitate the potential for progress in monitoring for operational applications.

BERA has been developing a bottom up research program that aims to tackle remote detection of individual tree seedlings on deactivated seismic lines and wellpads and to understand the development trajectories of their recovery, at the individual, plot, and line or well-pad level.  With the additional support of the Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC), Cenovus, and NRCAN, BERA was able to set up an exciting new research project in the Cold Lake – Conklin region, acquiring imagery along hundreds of kms of seismic lines flown both from conventional fixed-wing aircraft as well as unmanned aerial vehicles.   Imagery is/was being flown in the leaf-off spring season, and will be acquired in the late summer across the lowland study site, “LiDea”, and the upland site “Kirby” (see map below).  Both sites underwent a range of restoration treatments in recent years, and BERA researchers will collect measurements of various attributes (height and survival of coniferous seedlings, dendrochronological measurements, coarse woody debris, wildlife trails, etc.) to support stocking surveys (McDermid and Castilla labs) and trajectory models (Nielsen lab) this summer.

Existing BERA research programs are expanding rapidly as well.  The Bayne lab is setting up four new big grids (see map below) across and beyond the BERA priority areas where impact studies will continue in expanded environmental conditions using established and new triangulation bird monitoring techniques.  On this note, we welcome Natalie Sanchez and Dr. Richard Hedley, the newest additions to the BERA team who will work on this and other related investigations.

The Liang loT lab focused on hardware development last year and is now focusing more on application, processing and calibration and the design of wireless sensor networks for human footprint monitoring.  New research foci here include testing of various vibrations sensors for potentially tracking human/wildlife use, low-power networks (LoRaWAN), and cloud development.

Some specific notes on individual team members are listed below and will complete this update:

Remote Sensing Team:

  • Man Fai Wu has just defended his PhD proposal and is about to head out in the field. His main research focus will be on the detection and characterization of individual coniferous tree seedlings under a range of environmental conditions (lowland/upland, off-leaf/on-leaf imagery/treated/untreated features, etc.) on the site, plot and operational line level based on commercial fixed-wing obtained imagery.  He will work in the BERA-RICC study sites of Kirby and LiDea this summer.
  • Shijuan Chen has prepared her manuscript on characterizing vegetation structure on anthropogenic features with UAVs. In her research, she surveyed vegetation height using a point intercept strategy, and created photogrammetric point clouds from UAV imagery, aiming for comparing UAV-based estimates and field measurements both at point level and site level. She used three methods to estimate UAV-based vegetation height and fractional cover and compared their accuracies and cost of acquisition. Shijuan also plans on defending her work at her thesis defense at the end of this month.
  • Guillermo Castilla and his CFS team will work in the BERA-RICC Kirby study site to fly with their UAV some of the sites flown by the conventional fixed wing plane in Man Fai Wu’s project. He plans to use the data to assess the stability and capacities, in terms of various vegetation parameters of point clouds derived from a UAV as opposed to from a plane.
  • Oumer Ahmed successfully completed his postdoctoral research on hierarchical land and vegetation classification based on Landsat and UAV-based imagery last fall and published several papers based on this BERA work.
  • Rachel Kuzmich successfully completed her undergraduate degree this spring and with it her honours thesis project on the detection and classification of forest disturbance in the Alberta Oil Sands region using Landsat time series data. Her research found that seismic lines and wellsites can be detected using Landsat time series derived normalized burn ratio (NBR) breakpoint thresholds, but are threshold-sensitive and there is a cost (omission) when detection thresholds are too high to capture these features.  Rachel will present this work at the Earth Observation Summit next week in Montreal.
  • Griffin Williams also successfully completed his undergraduate degree this spring and with it his honours thesis project comparing UAV-based RGB camera data to multispectral imagery for determining structural characteristics of a coniferous forest. Classification of coniferous tree species yielded 85% and 72% overall accuracy for the multispectral and RGB respectively, confirming that these imagery collected from UAV platforms are suitable for individual species classification applications. Griffin will present this work at the Earth Observation Summit next week in Montreal

IoT/ground sensor Team:

  • Kan Luo is preparing for his PhD candidacy exam this summer and is working on preparing  a proposal on solving efficiency problems on hardware boards for sensor networks.
  • Sara Saeedi is working on a proposal to use and field deploy a vibration sensor to detect presence of ATVs and animals.

Ecological Team:

  • Angelo Filicetti has successfully defended his PhD proposal, which deals with assessing tree recovery on lines with and without fire, and comparing recovery rates in different forest stand types, such as pine stands versus treed fens. He collects information on heights and ages of regenerating trees on lines to be used for predictive recovery rates and will spend most of this summer’s field work in the Conklin BERA priority area.  Part of his work will take place on the active restoration sites of the new BERA-RICC sites, Kirby and LiDea.
  • Jocelyn Gregoire is studying how the threatened Canada Warbler responds to vegetation recovery on seismic lines in upland aspen stands. She is using sound triangulation to map the territories of the birds in order to assess whether they defend territories across seismic lines and how this is influenced by vegetation density.
  • Scott Wilson is writing up his MSc thesis on understanding how different bird species respond to vegetation recovery on well pads that are certified as reclaimed. He has found that birds are using well pads as the vegetation regrows but that most species use the well and the adjacent forest as part of their territory.  He also is demonstrating why technological advances are needed to map the fine-scale response of birds.
  • Connor Charchuk is writing up his MSc thesis on how birds respond to understory protection harvesting. This form of harvesting protects understory spruce from trampling. The bird community in this type of harvesting is far more similar to the original forest than traditional harvesting.  Particularly good news is that old-growth species like the Brown Creeper are observed using this type of harvesting within a few years of harvest, and that by 10+ years since understory harvest, the bird community has almost return to a similar state as the original forest.
  • Natalie Sanchez is looking at how birds react to industrial noise. Specifically, she is evaluating song plasticity to determine if this can explain why some species can persist in noisy areas while others avoid such areas.
  • Richard Hedley is a new post-doc joining the lab this fall. He has been developing a new approach to sound localization that will require fewer ARUs.  This should allow us to visit a larger number of types of human disturbance in different forest types to assess space use patterns of a much wider array of species.