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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.