In mid-August , members of the SeaBee team headed to Vega Island, just south of the Arctic Circle, with several of SeaBee’s flying, surface, and underwater drones in support of the MASSIMAL research project.
The goal of the MASSIMAL project (Mapping of Algae and Seagrass using Spectral Imaging and Machine Learning) is to develop new methods for mapping underwater vegetation such as seagrass and macroalgae. Using a hyperspectral camera mounted on a drone, the seafloor is imaged from 50-100 meters above the sea surface with a so-called “push broom” technique. The same method that is applied in satellite remote sensing, by with approximately a 1000 times better resolution. By combining the hyperspectral images with manual sampling of underwater vegetation, machine learning algorithms are used to produce detailed maps of species distribution, vegetation density, and explore the physiological state of the plants and algae.
“Working in the Vega archipelago is indeed beautiful and meaningful too, as it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fieldwork all was carried out inside the heritage domain, why all drone missions was proved by local and national authorities” said Kasper Hancke, SeaBee’s project lead.
SeaBee contributed to MASSIMAL’s fieldwork with both knowledge and physical infrastructure. Through providing both flying, surface, and underwater drones SeaBee contributed with aerial overviews and ground-truth data which are essential for successful training of machine learning algorithms for habitat classification. In particular, the SeaBee surface drone, RobOtto, helped to provide inherent optical properties (IOP) of the water column that enables correction of drones images for water column constituents.
“Drone technology provides unique opportunities and efficient data collection, and we welcome other research projects to reach out and utilise the SeaBee infrastructure,” Kasper added. “Don’t hesitate to get in touch!”
Seagrass and macroalgae are key habitats in coastal regions and are habitats under the term “blue forests”. These coastal forests provide sheltered habitats that are important for a range of other marine species, and further regulates carbon (CO2) turnover and water column nutrient concentrations. Blue forests are threatened by human activity, climate change, and in some places by grazing from sea urchins. To improve future preservation of these important habitats novel methods are essential for better monitoring and research on how and why these ecosystems change, which is a key goal also for SeaBee’s developing work.