Mapping the Ecology of Rainforests – sUAS News – The Business of Drones

Yasuo Baba

Rainforests are often referred to as ‘the lungs of the planet’ for good reason. They absorb carbon
dioxide, release oxygen and play a crucial role in controlling the climate and keeping the planet healthy.
Despite their critical importance, rainforests are under serious threat. Deforestation, illegal timbering,
and issues around tree and plant health are impacting vast swathes of these lush, highly diverse, and
vital ecosystems.

Advances in technology mean we no longer have to rely on manned aviation to monitor rainforest
health from the skies. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are rising to the challenge; providing a cost-
effective and efficient way of mapping enormous stretches of dense rainforest and protecting them for
future generations.

Determining the exact location of an area in a dense rainforest is no easy task. However, drone payloads
equipped with high-resolution cameras, image processing sensors, and state-of-the-art lenses, amongst
other technologies, enable researchers to view accurate, up-to-date, geo-referenced data supported by
superior image quality.

The data captured is not only used to monitor and protect areas but can also be shared with scientists to
analyse figures on forest density, biomass, plant health, and much more.
In order to accurately collect visual data, the sharpest images, and every detail in the most challenging
conditions, lens selection is critical. Mapping requires a wide-angle lens to capture as large an area as
possible. Aspherical optics provided by compact and lightweight lenses ensure superb sharpness and
maximum contrast.

Sony’s low-dispersion glass technologies, including Extra-low Dispersion (ED) and Super ED glass,
prevent chromatic aberration to ensure superb colour quality, contrast, and resolution across the entire
image. Fluorite Lens (FL) technology compensates for chromatic aberration while also saving even more

Furthermore, Sony’s original anti-reflective nano-coating formulas repel liquid and other contaminants,
alongside the performance-affirming Zeiss® T mark, enhancing image clarity by capturing flawless shots,
in humid rainforest conditions.

The crucialness of high-resolution lenses in accurate mapping is evident in Quantum-Systems work with
Wilderness International. By integrating Sony RX1 and UMC cameras into their drones they capture
aerial imagery within centimetre ground resolution and are able to protect, map, and research tropical
rainforests in Peru, using highly reliable information.

Quantum Systems’ Trinity F90+ drone carries two Sony RGB cameras; the RX1 and the UMC. They
provide the excellent resolution needed to offer high-quality mapping, with the RX1 offering up to

The ability to capture aerial imagery within centimetre ground resolution is achieved using the full-frame
image sensor (24x36mm) 5304 by 7952 pixels in the Sony RX1RII. In conjunction with a 35mm lens, the
camera can capture a 102m by 68m area of the forest with one single image. Each pixel represents a
1.29cm by 1.29cm area of the forest.

The photos are taken with an 80% overlap and with photogrammetry techniques the software is
processing georeferenced and precisely rectified orthoimages.
The Trinity can deliver 90 minutes of flight time and the Sony cameras also operate for this duration;
maximising the capabilities of the UAV. 

LiDAR data measures tree heights and calculates biomass based on volume. Multispectral data is used to
identify tree types and map rainforest diversity.

LiDAR is the only technology which can generate Digital Terrain Models (DTM) showing the relief of the
ground below forest, even in dense rainforest. These DTMs are important to understand the
geomorphology of the tropical rainforest.

Quantum-Systems supports Wilderness International on its mission with equipment and technical
expertise to capture aerial imagery with centimetre-level ground resolution in areas that will be
protected in the future, as well as to conduct additional aerial surveys with LiDAR and multispectral
cameras. The data and aerial images of the rainforest in Peru captured by the TrinityF90+ will be added
to a digital map.

The collected LiDAR and multispectral data will be evaluated by Wilderness International together with
scientists from Germany, but also with scientists from the local Peruvian organisation FaunaForever, to
then make further scientific statements.

Wilderness International is to set to buy more areas in Canada as well as in Peru and all the areas bought
will be mapped with the Trinity F90+. These areas will also be re-flown every two to three years to gain
comparative images to update the data and observe changes, such as the migration of rivers, new clearings, illegal timbering, and areas deforested by fire. Without the clarity produced by high-resolution
lenses, none of this vital environmental work would be possible.

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