Alternative Training: Drones
I am truly excited!! I had an alternative training opportunity in Laramie, Wyoming learning about remote sensing and drone technology! This was a two day symposium talking about drone capabilities, cameras, research, and GIS technology. I learned that drone technology was still a brand new venture for many people, and a lot of researchers received their drone and pilot’s license within the last year!
Drones came in all kinds of shapes and sizes! I witnessed that they could weigh up to 1.5 to 40 pounds. Some of the drones looked like very bizarre-looking helicopters with go pros attached to their undersides. Some of the drones looked like mini Styrofoam planes that had a built in camera and GPS device. These plane drones follow a computer program and GPS line transects automatically without any person manually operating them. Some of the cameras were really powerful and could generate point cloud maps of a canyon or river basin. These point cloud maps are usually over a terabyte of data and the pixel size was 1 cm by 1 cm. The details of these point cloud maps were amazing, you could pick out individual species of grass!!
There were many drones being developed for research projects throughout the world. Drones could be used to count animal species in harsh climates like in the Arctic, they could be used to cross the Atlantic Ocean to detect hurricanes, and they could be used to fly near forest fires to record and monitor fire movement. They used drones for a rainforest project, where they had to monitor canopy tree species in this one forest preserve. With remote sensing software and drone photography, they were able to accurately map almost every single canopy tree species!
There were a few problems that the researchers did encounter when operating drones out in the western United States. One of the major issues were birds of prey. Hawks and eagles always considered drones a threat to their territory, so they would fight the drones in the air! The researchers always brought extra parts for the drones in case the birds of prey wreck any parts. Wind was another issue people have encountered. Sometimes, the wind would be so strong that it would crash the drone immediately after take-off! The Styrofoam drones fared better than the plastic drones. Some drones were shot out of the sky by a land owner or hunter, because the drone was passing through their property to a study site.
In the future, I believe drones would be an important tool for GIS and remote sensing research. They have many capabilities and were extremely useful in collecting hard to obtain data. They were controversial right now in the United States. Many of the laws were brand new and were still being developed in terms of regulating drone activities. The general public was still wary about drones and UAVs. Drones could be very useful in data collecting, but they could also be used to video record and spy on neighbors. Someone used a drone to record some geysers in Yellowstone, and the drone crash landed into a geyser!
Drone technology and regulations are still developing. In the future, I believe that drones could be very beneficial for data collection and monitoring for many scientists. There are still many problems and hurdles this type of technology has to overcome. As of now, I am on the border with using drones. I see all the great possibilities and capabilities drones have for research, but I could see why there is backlash and concern over the use of this technology.
Beyond the symposium lectures, on the second day we got to fly and view different drones! We saw drones fly outside in an open parking lot and we got to see drones maneuver in indoor stadiums! Unfortunately, people crashed some of the drones, so some of the presentations were short. Fortunately, these drones were easy to repair! One of my favorite drones to watch were the Styrofoam drone planes. They weighed about two to three pounds and they automatically flew in the air without the aid of a human flying it. The drone coordinator inputted GPS lines for the drone to follow and the drone flew those lines exactly and safely crashed near the coordinator without any damage!
Overall, I learned a lot about drones by attending this symposium. When regulations ease up on drones, I would like to get my drone license, and use this type of technology for my future job! Hopefully, I can use drones to help detect invasive plant populations, so that they could be mapped and treated at a further date!
AIM Training in Rock Springs! BLM Legends, Assemble!!
Wow! I had the fortunate opportunity to go to Rock Springs, Wyoming for AIM (Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring) training. This type of training was essential for rangeland monitoring, plus it looked great for the resume! We had to learn various techniques on rangeland data collection. We had to dig soil pits and identify soil profiles, we had to measure canopy gap, learn about vegetation density, update our line point monitoring, collect surface soils, and learn about various plants! Each day began with lectures and field exercises. Most of the day had beautiful weather conditions, but in the late afternoon, it would thunderstorm out!
There was another reason why I was super hyped about doing this training… I got to meet all of the Wyoming and northeastern Utah BLM Legends! I never seen so many BLM Legends and staff in one room before! When we went out in the field, there was usually a forty car caravan of BLM Legends traveling to a site for field exercises. It was hilarious to see people from the public stop by and ask why there were so many Government trucks! Beyond the BLM legends, there were GBI interns! They were similar to CBG interns, but they were with the Great Basin Institute! They were there to learn about the AIM protocol as well!
Our first day, we were in the field learning about soil profiles and how to identify soils! At the Rock Springs, BLM we got to test out different soils and identify them! That was a lot of fun, but many people got dirty due to the crazy amount of clay in some of the soils. Afterwards, we went into the field and dug soil pits! That was fun, even if we had to take a break when an active thunderstorm blew by. I loved the amount of forbs I saw out there! Penstemon (Penstemon spp.), wall flowers (Erysimum spp.), and Hood’s phlox (Phlox hoodii) were prevalent. I even got to learn some new shrubs I have never encountered before like the spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa)!
The next day we attended some lectures in the morning. Later, we went to the south of Rock Springs to a beautiful piece of BLM land that was covered with lush Wyoming sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)! We learned all of the field methods when we were out there! Unfortunately, the final lesson was cut short due to a nearby thunderstorm. This thunderstorm was a doozy!! It hailed triangular hailstones on us that hurt like the dickens!! We survived and headed back to the field office, where we learned about statistics …the lecture really put everyone to sleep. ^_^;
Thursday was a large test for all of us! We had to do all of the AIM techniques on a mountainous hill near Rock Springs. We collected soil samples, measured canopy gap, looked at line point intercept, and preformed other various types of data collection. There were some ticks present, but they did not bother us! It was a beautiful day and I got to learn more cools forbs. I had the pleasure of studying black sagebrush (Artemisia nova) when I was monitoring! We were not stormed out this day, which was great!!
The final day, we took a test and finished up with lectures! Everyone did well on the open book test! We were released early, and our group got to look at wild horses and various Wyoming landscapes on our trip back to Buffalo, Wyoming! Overall, this was an amazing training opportunity! I am glad I took this training and I suggest that any intern in the future should take this training, even if they are not a rangeland monitoring intern!!!
Just a few weeks ago, it felt like Winter was still prevalent… now Summer was in full swing! Due to the additional amount of rain we have received in May, wildflowers were blooming like crazy across the Bighorns and the Powder River Basin!! The second part of my internship began at the beginning of June! All of a sudden, I got three major jobs with ten smaller jobs! I am super excited with a full schedule! My main priority was to ground truth all of the cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) areas I detected during my remote sensing. This task may be huge, but most of the areas I could drive past and take five minutes worth of notes at each site. I could easily visit fifty sites if I wanted to along county roads. My next job involved NISIMS and salt cedar (Tamarix spp.) data collection. I would go to a specific area located east of town and record all of the weeds I have encountered. I would also have to look for salt cedar in many of the draws. All of the salt cedar sites have been chemically and mechanically treated, and my job involved me going to each of the treated areas to make sure there would be no salt cedar left. Another job involved looking for bird nests in the sagebrush community. I would be going out with wildlife biologists and look for various bird species and nesting sites. I am excited to do all of the above jobs. If the weather was not suitable for field work, I get to work on indoor projects such as the continuation of look for cheatgrass using supervised classification, scanning old orthophotographs, working on soil profile identification, working with data management on oil and gas sites, typing up cheatgrass reports, and working with plant identification. Hopefully, I will have time to work on my blog!! ^_^;
Looking for the Blue Gems
I had a great opportunity to help out with bird monitoring for an entire week! One of my specialties was bird identification and I was thrilled to help out in any way! There was a study on sagebrush obligates or birds that use the sagebrush steppe as a breeding area. We had to look for nests of any bird species that used the sagebrush as a nesting area. Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri), vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), and sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) were the main bird species we were looking for!
I had to help out these Canadian wildlife biology technicians find nests that were hidden in the sagebrush. I thought it was going to be easy…unfortunately finding bird nests was extraordinarily hard! These nests were buried in dense sagebrush. The three most common bird species were Brewer’s sparrow, vesper sparrow, and the western meadowlark. The brewer sparrow’s nest were located towards the top of the sagebrush and the eggs were a bluish- turquoise color. The vesper’s nest was buried in the bottom of the sagebrush and was usually covered with grass, making it extremely difficult to find. The meadowlark’s nests were grass domes hidden usually by the transition areas by grassland and sagebrush. It took me two days to actually find an active nest!! Usually, we would spread out and rub a leg along each sagebrush we encountered. Rarely, the female would quickly leave the nest, and we would quickly find the nest she left, mark a GPS point there, and move onto the next area. Another way to look for nests would be to watch the bird couple in their territory in the morning and see where the female goes. I had to be wary, because the male would pretend to enter the sagebrush and lead me astray!! I was able to eventually find more nests! I found many bird territories including a sage thrasher territory! Later, a nest was found in the area. I did find two active Brewer sparrow’s nest. Finding the eggs was like finding blue gems in the sagebrush! It was a welcoming sight! Some problems we encountered in the field were snakes, many ticks, and high temperatures! Overall, it was a great experience and I learned a lot about birds and their nests!!
Moment of Zen
Here are some cool thunderstorm cells I saw recently!!