CHEESEHEAD Drone Project May Improve Climate Models

A researcher with a drone

Source: Routescene

What do the Green Bay Packers and forest-scanning drones have in common? Cheeseheads.

While Packer fans proudly identify with the dairy-infused moniker, a research project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has adapted the name for a ground-breaking UAV project to improve weather forecasting by understanding how vegetation and forests influence the atmosphere.

CHEESEHEAD (Chequamegon Heterogeneous Ecosystem Energy-balance Study Enabled by a High-density Extensive Array of Detectors) aims to study interactions and feedbacks between the land surface and atmosphere and how these results can be used to optimize climate models. The result? Better carbon-emission reduction policy making.

Researchers are using Routescene’s UAV LiDAR system to collect high-density, 3D point cloud data of prominent tree species in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Routescene’s LiDAR system mounted on a drone can capture the full tree structure from the tree canopy to the vegetation at ground level.

Covering the canopy

Drone-mounted LiDAR can quickly and efficiently survey and represent the type, shape and composition of the entire forest canopy with surveys deployed around 11 100-foot flux towers within areas that ranged from 61-247 acres. Six forest types were identified which included Aspen, Pine, Poplar, Larch, Cedar and Hardwood.

“The tall canopy of 20-30m height created difficult flying conditions,” researcher Christian Andresen said. “It was difficult to keep a visual line of sight, so we decided to fly smaller 500 x 500m flights to keep sight of the drone.”

“The Routescene system worked flawlessly we achieved all we had planned. Over the 3 days our crew of two covered a total of 4.2 km². We were particularly impressed with the density of overlapping flight lines and the mapping of the forest structure.”

The Routescene LiDAR system includes a 32-laser LiDAR sensor providing a scan rate of up to 1.4 million points per second. Point cloud density averaged 600 points per meter squared with a vertical accuracy of 2-5cm.

Routescene is branching out

For Routescene, tree-related research is becoming a growing part of the European drone provider’s business model.

In June, the company partnered with Toledo University to assess a forest-fire site in the Spanish province of Albacete to better understand the blaze’s severity and distribution.

“The project demonstrated the potential to distinguish post-fire plant structures in detail using UAV LiDAR data. When crossed with satellite-based fire severity metrics, the high-resolution results allow researchers to estimate the impact of fire on single trees not just whole forested areas, using metrics that are ecologically meaningful down to an individual tree level.”

Currently, California-based Skyfront is collaborating with Routescene to explore the impact of increasing flight endurance, using Skyfront’s Perimeter 8 gasoline-electric hybrid multicopter.