Image Acquisition Overview Resource Mapping -- Remote Sensing and GIS for Conservation

Aerial Thermal Scanning and Wildlife Surveys

Thermal Scanning with Research Aviation & Mapping Science, LLC. Resource Mapping is a member of a group of environmental scientists dedicated to the technical application of Remote Sensing.

In conjunction with Research Aviation, we have recently added a thermal scanning camera to our sensor package. This is a device that images transmitted heat rather than reflected light. The camera is designed to provide the same field of view as our multispectral camera and the image can be registered to its bands as an additional layer of information in spectral classification.

Research Aviation will be utilizing this system to study thermal leakage in modern buildings and identify point source heat pollution in New England rivers. Resource Mapping has been finding other applications in land and wildlife surveys.

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3D reconstruction of a section of the Delaware River being modeled by NEIHP.

NEIHP is using a network of on-site sensors in combination with our multispectral, thermal, laser profiling sensors, and high resolution DEMs to model changes in drainage and water temperature as a function of flow levels and the effects of different flood management techniques.

The Northeast Instream Habitat Program has contracted with Resource Mapping and Research Aviation for long-term multi-temporal coverage of several New England rivers as part of an effort to understand the functional relationships between biota and their physical environment in running water ecosystems

Thermal image of the river shot simultaneously with multispectral imagery.


Stephen Ambagis of USGS in Hawaii with a helicopter-mounted version of our camera system.

The USGS Hawaii Cooperative Studies Unit, Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center worked with Resource Mapping to test the effectiveness of our matching multispectral/thermal imaging system in identifying invasive plant species in Hawaii’s natural reserves and mapping still warm areas in the lava beds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We have since formed an association with the Hawaiian resource management firm, Bio-Logical, Inc., to provide these services to USGS and other conservation organizations on the islands.

Lava field below Pu’u o’o, Big Island, Hawaii, with simultaneous multispectral visible (left) and thermal (right).

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Herd of deer photographed in Arkansas with matching natural color (above)
and thermal infrared (right). The deer’s body heat makes them
bright targets against the cooler background.

Thermal Scanning Wildlife Surveys

Thermal imaging wildlife surveys have successfully estimated deer populations for several years in the United States, but the camera systems used are expensive and require a dedicated aircraft. In 2005, Winrock International, Inc. provided a development grant to test the usefulness of a smaller portable system that could be attached to a local aircraft at a lower cost in the same manner as our existing camera systems. As part of that grant, successful tests were run in Arkansas with a FLIR thermal camera and digital video camera mounted with matched fields of view onto a gimbal that was attached to the aircraft’s window frame, scanning landscape perpendicular to the flight path.

Resource Mapping has built on this system and, in conjunction with Bio-Logical Inc., is using it to survey goat populations in Hawaii’s natural reserves as part of Bio-Logical's contracts to manage invasive species.

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Counting Elephants with Imagery

Our experience with wildlife surveys from aircraft began in 1980, working with Dr. Norton-Griffiths in Tanzania to estimate wildlife populations in the Arusha region. He introduced us to aerial frame sampling for vegetation, crops, and wildlife estimates, and this has been a staple of our business since. In 2000, we worked in Botswana and Zambia with the South African Department of Wildlife and Elephants Without Borders to add georeferenced digital cameras to their surveys, verifying the geographic locations and numbers of elephants in each herd identified by in-flight observers. Seeing animals that blend in perfectly with their background remains the major impediment to more accurate point sampling, which we hope to resolve with the new thermal scanner techniques.

Elephants in Botswana

Our first surveys flew a grid pattern over African parks, 300 feet above the ground, counting all animals that fell between a set of fishing rods mounted to the strut of a Cessna aircraft. In later surveys we added GPS-logged digital cameras to locate herds and supplement the observer’s counts and species identification.

This work followed the guidelines established by Michael Norton-Griffiths (1978): Statistical analysis of animal count observations made from a grid of low-altitude flight line transects using Jolly’s Method II for unequal sized sampling units.

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