In connection with the Annual Report 2014 we are presenting some of our young and excellent scientists which are engaged in the Research Centre. The first interview is with Ana Sofia at Akvaplan-niva.

 

What is your scientific background? I studied Environmental Biology at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, an interdisciplinary Bachelor’s degree that incorporates biological and economic aspects of the analysis and management of environmental issues. After finishing my degree I moved to  England to  do  a Master’s degree in Monitoring and Conservation at the University of Hull. My research project involved monitoring marine mammals’ behavioural response to the presence of a large ferry, as a method to evaluate the possibilities for ship strikes. After completing the Master’s I have worked on projects related to Arctic systems, including ocean acidification, monitoring of marine mammals offshore and cetacean necropsy.

Ana Sofia is a PhD student at Akvaplan-niva, supervised by JoLynn Carroll with co-supervision of Martin Biuw (Akvaplan-niva) and Tiago Marques (CREEM). The Northern Research Institute supplies UAV equipment.

 

What topics are addressed in your project? The PhD is entitled “Using unmanned aerial vehicles for monitoring marine mammals in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions” and addresses several important challenges accompanying increased demand for petroleum-related activities in the Arctic. Given the climatic restrictions to access these areas, it has been difficult to make routine assessments of the seasonal distribution and abundance of marine mammals, which is a key aspect in determining the best periods and locations for exploration. This has accelerated the technological development of new image acquisition systems for use in combination with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). In particular, considering geological prospecting, UAVs may provide a valuable method for assessing seasonality and distribution in areas of interest for the industry. This research will help establish new technological approaches for mitigating the effects of anthropogenic activities in the marine environment.

 

NORUT's UAV in preparation for launching using a catapult system
NORUT’s UAV in preparation for launching using a catapult system

What are your main expectations/results? My main expectations are that UAVs can be used as an alternative method for monitoring, given that the appropriate corrections are made, and that the supporting equipment (e.g. still-image cameras, infra-red cameras) provide quality data. Depending on their flight capabilities (flight time, weather resistance, etc.), UAVs may provide different results and be used for different studies. However, the application of this equipment for marine mammal monitoring is still in the early stages. My work is an important step forward in resolving some of the methodological issues with UAVs and obtaining adequate correction factors required for their use.

 

Other things/topics you would like to highlight? To provide abundance estimates of marine mammals, it is necessary to adequately understand the species that are present in a certain area. For both general monitoring methods and UAVs a detection probability is required, which indicates the probability of detecting an animal given that it is present in the area. Moreover, it is possible to validate UAV observations with other methods of observation, which can provide further corrections for flights and improve the quality of the data obtained. This validation component is part of my PhD project as a way to test the efficacy of UAV observations versus land-based observations. This is essential for future field seasons when it will be possible to conduct strip-transect sampling and measure animal abundance and distribution.