Field Science Challenge #4 – Drone Data Discovery

Time travel is made possible through new technologies being used by scientists today. By repeatedly flying satellites, planes and drones outfitted with a variety of cameras and sensors across the seasons and over the years, we can collect data about how landscapes change over time.  Cameras can capture when snow falls and melts while hyperspectral sensors can provide more detailed information like geological composition of the land, vegetation types, and moisture levels in vegetation.  The ability to collect this data without having to walk hundreds of miles to get it opens up a new world of information to field scientists that can only visit their research sites certain times of year.  Dr. Ian Breckheimer is a RMBL staff scientist working to create spatial data that scientists can use to learn more about their study organismssites and systems.  We want to give you a little exploration with one of these products.  Even though we can’t have you visit Gothic in person this summer, you can tour it through the camera eye of a drone! 

Recorded Lab Chat with Dr Ian Breckheimer

Breckheimer and Drone

What we’d Like to Find Out: How do changes in microclimates drive changes in ecosystems over the years?  How can remote sensing technologies coupled with on the ground field science help us to answer these types of questions more effectively?  What can drone data help us discover about the field research sites located in Gothic, Colorado where RMBL is based?   

What You’ll Need:  

  • A computer, phone or tablet 
  • Internet access 

What To Do:  

  1. Go to this link to access drone images overlaid on maps of Gothic, Colorado to begin your drone data discovery tour!  Drone Images of Gothic
  2. Use the upper right menu to select the first image from May 7th 2019Zoom in on the Gothic Research Center (labeled on the map). The scene is mostly covered with snow, but there are a few areas that don’t have snow cover. What do these areas have in common? What might be responsible for the lack of snow?
  3. Select the May 25th image. What changed between this image and the previous one? What is responsible for the change?
  4. Select the June 10th image. Do you recognize different vegetation types in the image? How can you distinguish conifer forest from aspen and meadow?
  5. Did the areas where snow melted earlier start to green up earlier? Why or why not? 

Please Remember (Research Rules & Ethics): In this scenario, we have already provided you with drone images to look through.  If you decide to take your own drone footage, be sure to abide by the rules set by the FAA and your community about when and where you are allowed to fly drones (for example in Gunnison County one can’t use drones during hunting season in elk habitat).   

What Happened? Tell Us About It! After taking a tour of Gothic through the drone images, watch Dr. Breckheimer’s lab chat.  

So What? Next Steps:  If you are interested in finding out more about how to use drone imagery in field research, you can access additional learning materials from Dr. Breckheimer’s 2018 workshop: