KELPMAP – Upscaling drone-based maps using satellite images shows promise

Helgelandskysten is one of Norway’s most beautiful coastlines, holding World Heritage Status (UNESCO) and ‘Outstanding Universal Value’.

It has thousands of small islands, islets and skerries, mountains, fjords and a great deal of life above and under the water. It must be managed well to safeguard the valuable cultural history and ecosystems. Kelp forests are a key part of the ecosystems in this area. 

Helgelandskysten (above) and kelp forest (below). Photo from H. Gundersen, NIVA.

KELPMAP (NIVA and NR) is investigating if it is possible to map kelp forests using drones, and then upscale the information collected using satellite data. The project is financed by Miljødirektoratet and Norsk Romsenter, 2022 – 2024 (NIVA field report).  

SeaBee is being used to map the benthic habitats. Both rotor drones and fixed-wing drones with RGB and MSI sensors (SeaBee equipment) are used to collect the data which is uploaded to the SeaBee Data Pipeline.

Ground truth data are also sampled in the field, for training of algorithms and validation of data products. The drone images are then annotated, guided by the ground truth, to show which parts of the drone images are kelp forest and other species.

SeaBee has defined 42 different habitat classes in three analysis levels (shared on GitHub), many of them compatible with the NiN classifications. These results are analysed, quality controlled and presented as high-resolution maps of habitat classes for the whole study area – which show the kelp forests and other species. 

Another new aspect is upscaling these results to cover a larger area using satellite imagery (using Sentinel-2 with 10m resolution and PANDA with 2m resolution). The upscaling showed promising results, important for environmental management on larger scales.  

The results will be delivered to Miljødirektoratet this year to be used as a tool for measuring progress and implementation of existing national policies and management plans.

Miljødirektoratet are pleased with progress so far, and with the results that were received. These advances also have potential applications in other national and European research, not the least the Kunming-Montreal Global Nature Agreement (CBD). 

The drone view of Helgelandskysten during field work. Photo from G. Medyan, NIVA.

SeaBee shines at GeoHab 2024

SeaBee Research Infrastructure team members proudly presented at the international GeoHab Conference 2024 (6th – 10th May) in Arendal, Norway.

SeaBee contributed four presentations, and was mentioned in the keynote by Terje Thorsnes (NGU) on marine habitat mapping programs in Norway.    

Kristina Kvile (NIVA) presented the latest news on drones, updated methods and protocols for marine habitat mapping. She shared how habitats are classified and how drones can be used to identify marine vegetation at various hierarchical levels ranging from habitat classes to species level using high-resolution multispectral sensors and AI classification tools.

Collecting direct observations from the ground and boat (above) and the possible resolutions of collected data. Photos from K. Kvile (NIVA).

Håvard Løvas (NTNU) told the audience about hyperspectral solutions for detailed identification of shallow-water species and objects with distinct optical ‘fingerprints’.

Hyperspectral imaging is a novel, powerful tool for coastal drone mapping. You can characterise water quality, classify bottom substrates, and identify simple species based on their optical characteristics. However, interpretating images of underwater features and species is challenging, thus careful, systematic data handling and calibration routines are essential to achieve good results.  

Øyvind Tangen Ødegaard (NIVA) described how to tame a surface drone (Otter Pro USV), and how its sophisticated on-board optical  and acoustic sensors can support the information from flying drones to produce even better maps and classifications of seafloor species and features.

The SeaBee Otter operates with a high-accuracy positioning system (better than 2-3 cm on measured data) which enables precise georeferencing of collected data – be it underwater photo and video,  acoustic data of the seafloor or optical data of the water quality. 

Views of how the SeaBee Otter is handled in the field. Photo by Ø. Odegaard (NIVA).

Kasper Hancke (NIVA) evaluated the use of drones and artificial intelligence for kelp forest and seagrass mapping, highlighting the main advantages of SeaBee Research Infrastructure as well: 

– Drones with RGB and MSI sensors combined are powerful tools for high resolution mapping and monitoring of coastal habitats and species 
– Artificial Intelligence models are a powerful method for classifying benthic habitats and are cost-effective
– High resolution habitat maps are essential for coastal carbon accounting and more sustainable management and for guiding marine preservation and restoration initiatives. 
 

Great days of science and exciting discussions. Thank you to the organizing committee! – Kasper Hancke, SeaBee project coordinator

For more information on SeaBee Research Infrastructure visit seabee.no, or follow us on LinkedIn: SeaBee Research Infrastructure.

 

SeaBee Out and About

The SeaBee experts have been busy, out and about sharing how SeaBee Research Infrastructure can be used, testing new possibilities and implementing the SeaBee Data Pipeline in coastal research and environmental monitoring activities.  

SeaBee at C-BLUES EU kick-off meeting   

There is a lot to discover about blue carbon ecosystems – seagrass meadows, tidal marshes, mangroves and macroalgae. The C-BLUES project aims to significantly advance knowledge and understanding of blue carbon ecosystems to reduce scientific uncertainty, improve reporting of blue carbon, and promote the role of blue carbon in delivering climate policy commitments.  

At the kick-off meeting (held 14-17th April in Barcelona), SeaBee coordinator, Kasper Hancke (NIVA), presented how SeaBee and drones can contribute to efficient mapping and monitoring of blue carbon habitats across a range of coastal environments and how drone data further can be developed into tools for assessing:

  1. ecological status of coastal systems,
  2. species and biomass of marine vegetation,
  3. development for estimating stocks and content of blue carbon, with relevance to sustainable management and research on climate regulation. 

C-BLUES will join forces with the already running Horizon Europe project, OBAMA-NEXT.  

C-BLUES is a Horizon Europe Framework project running from 2024-2028, funded under the call for EU-China international cooperation on blue carbon (HORIZON-CL5-2023-D1-02). 

Group picture at C-BLUES kickoff meeting, 14th – 17th April in Barcelona.
SeaBee at remote sensing seminar at MDIR 

Miljødirektoratet (MDIR) hosted a seminar on remote sensing for Norwegian environmental monitoring and mapping on the 23rd April, 2024.

SeaBee co-coordinator, Hege Gundersen (NIVA), presented the KELPMAP project on using drones for mapping and identification of kelp and underwater vegetation.

KELPMAP develops novel tools for kelp forests mapping using drone products and machine learning-based image classification, and the results demonstrate that drone images can be used to identify klep forests to a water depth of at least 10 m.

MDIR and Norwegian Space Center funded SeaBee to developing the tools to map kelp forests and other habitats for improving marine management actions. 

For more information on SeaBee Research Infrastructure visit seabee.no, or follow us on LinkedIn: SeaBee Research Infrastructure.

 

New SeaBee Pilots Ready to Fly

Preparations are well underway for the main field season in SeaBee for 2024. 

SeaBee Research Infrastructure relies on drone-based data collection by experienced pilots and marine biology experts. Ensuring drone pilots are trained in the latest techniques and are up-to-date with new regulations and certifications is a key part of collecting data for mapping, monitoring and research along the Norwegian coastline.  

Drones-eye-view of the NIVA team getting ready to learn new skills in drone flying at Ølbergholmen,Larvik.
Drone Pilot Training 

At the end of March, a team from NIVA headed out to Ølbergholmen (Larvik) to train new pilots, and test the latest sensors and new EVO drones (New EVO drones added to SeaBee Family)  

“We had bright conditions, around 10°C, so relatively good for March, but the weather forecast was not so accurate, and there was more wind than we would have hoped for and expected. However, this was not a show-stopper, as the very lower levels of air were calm enough (less than 10m/s). Our larger drones were able to map at 60m. During lulls in the wind, we were able to test one of our NEW EVO R VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) fixed-wing vehicles” – Medyan Ghareeb, Drone Operations (NIVA) 

  

Kristina Kvile (Data Validation lead) and Debhasish Bakta (Web interface development) went through the training manual and the practical procedures around drone flying. Both did exceptionally well flying two DJI Mavic Mini drones, with skills and confidence increasing throughout the day. Kristina and Debhasish are now certified for A2 and A1/3  (respectively). They were supervised by SeaBee pilots Medyan and Øyvind, who later ran some test flights. 

A panorama-like view of the field site where the team went through practical certifications and tested new SeaBee drones.
Testing new drones and sensors 

Øyvind Herman Torp (Drone Pilot) used the breaks between high winds to test the ReefEdge Blue, Altum PT and RGB sensors. He collected datasets using these covering the whole Ølbergholmen area at an altitude of 60 m.  

The wind subsided a little in the afternoon, and some test flights using the EVO R with RGB and Rededge-P dual setup were flown. The pilots were able to collect a complete data set with the Rededge-P sensor, but challenges with the RGB camera means another attempt is needed to fully test both EVOs and collect a full dual sensor data set. 

For details about the technology we use, visit SeaBee Equipment.

Nuts and Bolts of drone technology in SeaBee

The SeaBee Research Infrastructure relies on using state-of-the-art drones and sensors systems to collect data. Anders Gjørwad Hagen (NIVA) is responsible for ensuring that the SeaBee drones are fit for purpose and carry suitable sensor systems for collecting data in a variety of situations and for multiple research purposes. The SeaBee project has been running for nearly four years, and now has multiple drones being regularly used by expert pilots in the field. 

One of the EVO fixed wing drones prepared for takeoff by SeaBee crew

Identifying user needs 

Ensuring the SeaBee drones are fit for purpose means that user needs must be identified and understood. This was an important task to carry out already from the early stages of the Research Infrastructure development. In SeaBee, we consulted with partner organisations working on the SeaBee applications (What we do). At project workshops, meetings and during field missions, their needs for drone capabilities and sensors were collected and mapped against available technology from industry suppliers.  The first discussions on what kind of drone technology is needed to collect high-quality data were at the kick-off meeting to SeaBee in Oscarsborg fortress, Viken in 2020. 

These requirements were documented and kept in living documents, which are regularly updated, and have since been referred to when purchasing drones, sensors and the associated systems. To date, SeaBee Research Infrastructure has: 

  •  14 flying drones (UAV) 
  • two unmanned surface vehicles (USV) 
  • two underwater drones (UUV) 
  • nine types of sensors 
  • and many software systems for various tasks.  

These are regularly used for field work and data collection. 

The drone and sensor capabilities needed in the field are often updated at project meetings using feedback collected from scientists working in SeaBee, who are responsible for validating the collected data. 

Read more: Two New EVO drones added to SeaBee family 

Field work in Finnmark (Ascomap project)

SeaBee workshops 

There are two physical workshops that house the SeaBee drones and sensors. The workshops are at NIVA in Oslo, and NTNU in Trondheim. The NIVA workshop has been running since late 2022, and the workshop at NTNU since May 2021, with a DJI drone with AFX10 hyperspectral camera.  

These locations were chosen for the physical workshops because they are the main nodes for the drone operations in SeaBee, and can reasonably easily cover the geographical needs of the partners. The workshops store drones and equipment, and are where the drone pilots carry out routine maintenance. 

The field of drone and sensor technology is advancing rapidly. Therefore, purchasing decisions should be carefully deliberated to ensure that you are acquiring cutting-edge technology, rather than investing in solutions that are either not fully developed or that will soon become obsolete. Also, its equally crucial to ensure that the purchases align well with the researchers’ needs.  – Anders Gjørwad Hagen, NIVA 

 

Next Steps 

Although the SeaBee drones and sensors are now in regular use, that does not mean that we have all equipment that might be needed for new and different applications in the future. Therefore, selecting technology and equipment that has multiple potential applications is important to consider. Our latest purchase is a UAV bathymetry (green) LiDAR and a red LiDAR. The green LiDAR is a system capable of collecting bathymetry data down to two Secchi depths in the intertidal zone which cannot be reached by boat. This system can be used for river and lake analyses, a potential new area for SeaBee activities. 

As we approach the end of SeaBee’s establishment phase, it’s important that we make strategic purchases that provide adequate coverage for the (known and unknown) future needs during the operational phase. Therefore, discussions with all partners are planned to ensure good choices of technology are made.

A few favourite things of SeaBee Research Infrastructure

SeaBee Research Infrastructure contains many different pieces that require coordination and expert input to run smoothly and deliver quality data in a timely manner.

 

The SeaBee project has developed this infrastructure and with support from The Norwegian Research Council in the period 2020-2025 under project no. 296478. This year has been an important one, where SeaBee reached several significant achievements, undertook extensive field missions, and started using the SeaBee Data Pipeline. 

With the new year approaching, we asked the experts, drone pilots and scientists involved in developing, testing and exploring use of the infrastructure, what they see as their favourite part of SeaBee Research Infrastructure.  

 

The top mentions? The data, the support the infrastructure provides, and the people.

 


Hege Gundersen, co-project coordinator (NIVA) likes the colorful high-resolution maps of the coastal zone, because she is considering framing them and decorating the living room.


Kristina Øle Kvile, Data Validation lead and benthic habitat mapping task lead (NIVA) likes the field work, because it means working in beautiful surroundings with good people who give her inspiration and motivation to work with challenges in the coastal zone. 

A colourful, high resolution map that Hege is considering for the living room
The SeaBee consortium discussing latest achievements and progress during the recent Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
The SeaBee consortium discussing progress at the Annual Meeting in Bergen November, 2023)
An image of bird cliffs at Runde, taken from drone footage collected during summer 2022.
An image of bird cliffs at Runde, taken from drone footage collected during summer 2022.

Karoline Slettebø, financial controller and SeaBee Shop coordinator (NIVA) appreciates the people working in SeaBee, and her favourite part is the technology. Using the equipment to support and expand our knowledge base and therefore gaining a better understanding with which we can deliver better advice [to decision-makers and society].


Anders G. Hagen, Drone Infrastructure Specification and Establishment lead (NIVA) has a twofold joy to SeaBee. He really enjoys and appreciate all the drones and equipment. But he also finds it really rewarding to attend meetings and see results of the drone use in the various SeaBee applications. The drones really satisfy certain “geeky genes” inside him, and the capability of the technology is impressive. It is very rewarding to be able to acquire and put in to use state of the art technology like this. It is very inspiring to see how spec´ing the drones and sensors leads to practical use and top-class data acquisition in the projects, and how the data subsequently leads to important decision-making and – hopefully – a better environment for us all! 


Sindre Molværsmyr, lead of Seabird monitoring task (NINA) likes the high geographical precision achieved through Seabee and connected services, which have changed people’s mindset about how to work with seabirds, how to interact with colonies and given the opportunity to answer new questions. 

Birds detected by Norge Regnesentral's model on Realfagstaket
Deployment of a Mavic 3 Multispectral from a boat near a seabird colony. Photo: Marie Curtet

Kim Leirvik, working with SeaBee data management (NIVA) likes the birds detected on Realfagstaket. He likes it because it shows the [SeaBee] dataflow and its quite fun to see Norge Regnesentral’s model (2022_nina_birds_20230817 is the name of the model) in action on a familiar location. 


Marianne Johansen, Communication co-lead (GRID-A) likes that  SeaBee as a whole provides detailed, accurate and specific environmental information about nature in the coastal zone and is enthusiastic about how it can be used for better management and protection of nature in the future.  


Lorna Little, Communication lead (GRID-A) has two favourite pieces of SeaBee: the DJI Mavic drone AND the Class definitions used to annotate the drone images of habitats (on github). The drone is a favourite because it can be deployed from the pilot’s hand (so adaptable!) and the class definitions are because it is SO fascinating to see how we can categorise and break down beautiful images of the world into data!   

Georgios Fylakis, working with Geostory creation (GRID-A) likes the fact that many different organizations work together to build a national infrastructure for drone data that can be used both now, and, in the future, to solve multiple environmental issues. 


Arnt-Børre Salberg, Data Analysis lead (NR) likes the Geonode that the Data storage and sharing team has created, and how quickly one can navigate in the map. 


Mari Solerød, working with communication (NIVA) really likes the high ambitions of the team for being visible and for showing off the excellence and the added value of the SeaBee infrastructure. 

The SeaBee geovisualisation on the Geonode
The SeaBee consortium describing the added value of SeaBee Research Infrastructure at the Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
The SeaBee consortium describing the added value of SeaBee Research Infrastructure at the Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023)
Lastly, from the SeaBee project coordinator, Kasper Hancke (NIVA), 

whose favourite part of SeaBee is: 

“The Team! The entire enthusiastic, skilled, smart, and hardworking SeaBee team! It gives me inspiration and belief in the future, which makes me want to throw a big party for everyone…! 

The SeaBee consortium at the recent Annual Meeting in Bergen (November, 2023).

Trained to fly – Drone pilots in SeaBee Research Infrastructure

Drone pilots are a crucial part of the data collection for the SeaBee Research Infrastructure. We sat down with Tor Arne Johansen (NTNU) and Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) who work with this part of SeaBee. They shared how drone pilots get certified, what they do to practice, and how SeaBee uses drone pilots from the partner institutions to fly the variety of missions needed for different scientific applications.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flies a drone as part of a training mission for SeaBee Reseach Infrastructure

Why does SeaBee Research Infrastructure need drone pilots?

SeaBee needs drone pilots to fly the state-of-the-art drones equipped with assorted sensors, during field missions to collect data on different species and environments in coastal areas of Norway. Many coastal areas have complex terrains to work in, so flying drones enables covering larger areas that would be a struggle to reach on foot.

Drone and sensor technology is constantly developing and improving, therefore SeaBee needs pilots who have the appropriate training, certifications and knowledge in operating drones to collect high quality data that can be used in research and coastal management.

How many drone pilots does SeaBee have?

There are multiple drone pilots at the partner institutes who are involved in SeaBee. 

At NIVA, under the umbrella of SeaBee Research Infrastructure, there are 7 pilots for Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) flights and 2 who can fly drones on Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) flights under Tiepoint.

The regulations covering drone flights are complex, therefore other partners are obliged to fly under their respective operations manuals.

NTNU has 2 pilots flying under the NTNU operations manual, and NINA had 6 drone pilots working on a recent summer campaign (read more in the news about 440 drone missions and 100 thousand images) that can fly VLOS under NINA operations manual.

How does one become a drone pilot in SeaBee?

Pilot training and operating licenses are managed directly by the partner institutes. There are different levels of training and certification needed before one can fly drones, and the partners are constantly updating procedures to ensure all pilots remain compliant.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flying a drone during a training mission on the coast of Norway

When considering whether to take on drone pilot certification, Medyan suggests keeping the following in mind: 

“… potential Pilots are enthusiastic or at least willing for all the processes for example: training, regulations, hms, data, flight preparation, updating or buying in hardware and software and not just flying drones – the flying is just a small part of being a pilot.” 

 

What is the most exciting, and the most difficult moment during a drone flight? 

“It is exciting when it all comes together, a [drone] flight gets good data and the drone lands! Keeping pace with new regulations, training and hardware requirements can be difficult, and integrating/using new sensors can also offer many challenges” – Medyan Ghareeb, drone pilot at NIVA. 

 

What are the next steps for drone pilot operations in SeaBee Research Infrastructure? 

As the available SeaBee Research Infrastructure hardware becomes larger and more capable we need to keep up with training and regulations. This has different implications for the different partners. For example, at NIVA this means becoming capable in the Specific and PDRA, later SORA classes of operations. These are operations that require further training, more rigorous risk assessments, hardware needs and notices or permissions.  

Annual Meeting 2023 – From outcomes to impact

All partners and industry partners met in Bergen for the SeaBee Annual Meeting (25 – 27th October, 2023) to update and discuss the year’s progress in delivering the SeaBee Research Infrastructure.

SeaBee aims to create a cohesive national infrastructure, enabling sharing and use of data, collected by state-of-the-art drones and technology, to better understand Norway’s natural environment. This was the fourth Annual Meeting.

Main outcomes 

During the Annual Meeting, SeaBee partners shared the progress that happened in 2023:

  • New expert pilots trained in latest certification requirements 
  • Two state-of-art drones and new sensors purchased 
  • Different models built for annotation and processing the drone images, and tested using field examples 
  • SeaBee Data Pipeline implemented for processing and visualising results and found to work well 
  • New methods and techniques validated through in-situ tests in the different SeaBee applications 
  • Began paving the way for a SeaBee2

 

What happens next? 

We received valuable input and feedback and SeaBee has some clear focus areas for the coming year. Building impact through applications and use by decision-makers in Norway will be highlighted in 2024, as will sustainability of the infrastructure in the future. 

 

SeaBee project consortium gathered atop Ulriken in Bergen for the Annual Meeting (25-27th October, 2023).

For more information on SeaBee Research Infrastructure visit seabee.no, or follow us on LinkedIn: SeaBee Research Infrastructure.