For the first time, Alaska researchers plan to use drones with thermal cameras to detect hibernating polar bears and grizzly bears on the North Slope.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks team is working without dedicated funding, but is seeking industry support for the project. For now, they’re relying on UAF resources like the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.
Federal law requires oil and gas companies to remain one mile away from polar bear dens and a half mile away from grizzly bear dens from November to April. Otherwise, they risk disturbing their hibernation with noise and vibration from vehicles and other off-road operations. Keith Cunningham is a research assistant professor at UAF and has worked on drone data and applications for various organizations.
“On the North Slope right now, there are experts who are trained in chasing off bears that get too close to some of these oil production areas,” says Cunningham. “We call that bear hazing. There might be bean bags or fire crackers that are shot at the bear to scare it away.
Cunningham says the drones will use specialized cameras to detect the bears.
“These infrared cameras basically spot emitted thermal heat. A sleeping bear is actually burning calories and radiating heat. And you can pick that up with a camera.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been experimenting with artificial dens for several years. Part of the upcoming UAF research will involve constructing wooden dens and mimicking body heat using a device set to about 60 watts.
Weather stations outside the dens will measure conditions like wind speed, wind direction and temperature. Another device will measure snow depth and density. As they run trials, that data should tell the researchers how effective their drone is under different conditions.
The goal is to provide this technology and information to oil and gas companies active on the North Slope.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com