On September 19, 2019 a controlled burn was conducted on the Doak grassland and forest property, owned and managed by the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. Burn events such as this one present a unique opportunity to demonstrate how UAS can be utilized as an effective tool to both monitor the burn events in real time, but also to effectively gather data before and after the burn to map and better manage vegetation. This collection of maps, videos, and images provide a narrative on how UAS can be used as an effective tool in controlled burn management practices. Beyond controlled burns, the story should demonstrate how UAS can be used to better monitor and inventory other disturbance events, whether they are planned or unexpected.
A Collaborative Effort
The data collected for this event represents a collaborative effort between multiple colleges at Purdue University and private industry. Employees with Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources (College of Agriculture) performed and managed the burn while data collection for the pre and post-burn mapping was conducted by student researchers and pilots from the Purdue School of Aviation and Transportation Technology (SATT; Polytechnic Institute). Peter Menet and Chris Johnson from MenetAero provided aerial monitoring support throughout the controlled burn. A total of three different aircraft were used during this event. The SATT student pilots deployed a C-Astral Bramor PPX equipped with a MicaSense Altum 6 band multispectral sensor at 121 meters before and after the event for mapping purposes. MenetAero deployed a C-Astral C4Eye to monitor the burn in real time using EO/Thermal IR video with real time geographic coordinates at 121 meters while SATT students monitored the burn with a DJI M600 equipped with a Zenmuse XT2 sensor at lower altitudes.
Monitoring the Burn:
The nimble nature of UAS makes them ideally suited to deploy rapidly, and into tight situations otherwise too dangerous for ground crews and manned aircraft. Add to this the aerial perspective offered by UAS via real-time video feed, and you have the perfect platform to assist in hazard events such as fire. The real-time video feed allows the UAS pilot and crew to communicate with ground-based fire crews, providing information on potential hazards and overall fire behavior patterns. For this aerial perspective to be effective, however, the video needs to have geospatial context so what the UAS operator is seeing is effectively communicated to ground-based fire crews. Full-Motion-Video, or video that has metadata with geospatial coordinate information, is a game changer in this regard. The video below shows how software such as Remote Geosystems Line Vision Ultimate can place video in a geospatial context. The video below is being played after the flight, but Pete Menet from MenetAero had the video live streaming to his Ground Station during the flight and was able to effectively serve as an ‘eye in the sky’ to provide real time information to ground based crews. This was all done in a controlled burn, but this same technology and method is used by MenetAero during Wild Fire Events where MenetAero provides UAS services as a contractor with the U.S. Department of Interior. Peter Menet and the MenetAero crew were kind enough to donate their services and time to the controlled burn event this day as part of a collaborative research effort between industry and Purdue.
A Before and After Comparison
Prior to recent advances in UAS technology, gathering imagery at sub-centimeter accuracy and resolution immediately before and after a planned burn event would prove difficult at best. The PPK technology on the C-Astral PPX allowed us to conduct the flights without the need to layout and survey ground control markers, but still achieve centimeter level accuracy by post-processing our data with a Continuously Operating Reference Stations in close proximity. Without UAS, getting satellite data within this time frame would have been pretty much impossible, and getting a manned aircraft to do this prohibitively expensive.
Making Sense of it all through Classification Analysis
Pre-Burn Land Cover Classification
When we think of disturbance events, we often think of the unplanned ones – fire, ice storms, wind storms, floods, etc. But what about planed disturbances such as a controlled burn, or a timber harvest operation? In the case of a planned disturbance, we have the ability to inventory land cover immediately before an event, and then with classification methods, quantify that land cover. Land Use/Cover classification methods are nothing new, and go back to the very beginnings of GIS/Remote Sensing, but new here is the ability to deploy a UAS to get this data in a way that is accurate and precise enough to classify down to resolutions of several square centimeters. Add to that the imagery was gathered less than an hour before the burn and you have some amazing potential for forestland management.
*Thank you to ArcGIS.com for sharing the great work of our FNR specialists as they continue to “strengthen lives and livelihoods” here in Indiana and around the world.
Unmanned Aerial Systems and Burn Management Strategies, Unmanned Aerial Systems and Burn Management Strategies webpage
Effective Firebreaks for Safe Use of Prescribed Fire, Got Nature? Blog, Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension
Prescribed fire: 6 things to consider before you ignite, Got Nature? Blog
Renovating native warm-season grass stands for wildlife: A Land Manager’s Guide, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center
Calibrating a No-Till Drill for Conservation Plantings and Wildlife Food Plots, The Education Store
Jarred Brooke, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Cities and towns in the U.S. contain more than 130 million acres of forests. These forests vary extensively in size and locale. An urban forest can describe an urban park such as Central Park in New York City, NY, street trees, nature preserves, extensive gardens, or any trees collectively growing within a suburb, city, or town. Urban forestry is the name given to the care and maintenance of those ecosystem areas that remain after urbanization. Data from the 2010 census indicated more than 80% of Americans live in urban centers with a population increase greater than 12%. The population of Indiana represents only 2.1% of the nation. In the last 8 years, IN has had an influx of 200,000 people which represents a population increase of 3.0%!
Urban forests, which help filter air and water, control storm water runoff, help conserve energy and provide shade and animal habitat must be maintained. As our nation becomes more urbanized, appreciate those urban foresters working to ensure we have save urban forest spaces to enjoy. These precious resources add more than curb appeal and economic value, they improve our quality of life.
What does an urban forester do? Here’s a quick answer:
Purdue Urban Forestry & Arboriculture, Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources
USDA Forest Service Urban Forests, United States Department of Agriculture
US Census Bureau, United States Census Bureau
Interested in Purdue Urban Forestry? Contact:
Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Forestry and Natural Resources
Tree Support Systems, The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Corrective Pruning for Deciduous Trees, The Education Store
Tree Installation: Process and Practices, The Education Store
What plants can I landscape with in area that floods with hard rain?, Got Nature? Blog, Purdue University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension
Shaneka Lawson, USDA Forest Service/HTIRC Research Plant Physiologist/Adjunct Assistant Professor
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Additionally, damage to the bark layer of trees causes a long-term liability by creating a wound which leads to a defect, becoming an unsafe tree.
The site of injury is usually the root flare area, where the tree meets the turf and gets in the path of the mower or trimmer. The bark on a tree acts to protect a very important transport system called the cambium layer.
This is where specialized tubes are located which move nutrients and water between the roots and the leaves. Bark layers can vary in thickness on different tree species. It can be more than an inch in thickness or less than 1/16 of an inch on young, smooth-barked trees such as maples and birch trees. This isn’t much protection against string trimmers and mowing equipment, especially the young trees.
Any type of damage or removal of the bark and the transport system can result in long-term damage. Damage, which extends completely around the base of the tree called girdling, will result in ultimate death in a short time.
Tree wounds are serious when it comes to tree health. The wounded area is an opportunity for other insects and diseases to enter the tree that causes further damage. Trees can be completely killed from an attack following injuries. Fungi becomes active on the wound surface, causing structural defects from the decay. This weakens the tree or it eventually dies, creating a risk tree to people around it.
Newly planted, young trees need all the help we can provide to become established in the landscape and these trees are often the most commonly and seriously affected by maintenance equipment. However, injury can be avoided easily and at very low cost with these suggestions.
Trees are a major asset to your property and important to our environment. Protect our trees and preserve these valuable assets by staying away from tree trunks with any mowing or weed trimming equipment. The damage lasts and it cannot be repaired and often results in losing your tree.
Corrective Pruning for Deciduous Trees, The Education Store – Purdue Extension resource center
What plants can I landscape with in areas that floods with hard rain?, Purdue Got Nature? Blog
Tree support systems, The Education Store
Tree Installation: Process and Practices, The Education Store
Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forest Specialist
Forestry and Natural Resources