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April, 2015

Research at Scion - The changing face of forest monitoring

Preliminary results demonstrate the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles to greatly improve our understanding of the health and productivity of New Zealand forests.

The sight of drones flying over New Zealand forests may become relatively common if the recent research done by Scion is anything to go by. Testing has shown that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be rigged to carry LiDAR, infrared or hyperspectral sensors and video cameras that can be used to rapidly cover small stands, or undertake longer flights that cover up to 1000 hectares. The LiDAR data that is collected can provide information on stand properties such as stocking and tree height, while the infrared and hyperspectral cameras can be used to capture aspects of tree health, such as red needlecast, and the extent of other vegetation in the forest. The applications go beyond planted forests, as assessments of native forest blocks can also be carried out with UAVs. Scion is working with Callaghan Innovation and the Civil Aviation Authority to conduct field trials, which are due to begin in May. If successful, it is envisaged that UAVs will become an important part of forestry in New Zealand, allowing forest owners to simply and quickly check on the healthy and productivity of their estate, and therefore make more informed management decisions.
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