Backgrounder: Research chair sheds light on Earth’s surface

Social Sciences

As the BC Leadership Chair in Hyperspectral Remote Sensing, based in the University of Victoria’s Department of Geography, Olaf Niemann will work with provincial, national and international partners to address questions focused on environmental and resource monitoring

Remote sensing uses a variety of technologies to obtain information on an object, area or phenomenon from a distance, typically by using aircraft, satellites, buoys or ships. Hyperspectral remote sensing—which collects and measures the reflection of hundreds of wavelengths of light from ground features—provides much more detailed imagery than conventional remote sensing.

Hyperspectral imaging technology is increasingly being used in a wide range of applications—including mapping rock types for mineral exploration, evaluating crop yields, identifying invasive plant species, detecting early stages of forest stress caused by insects or disease, detecting and assessing cancer tumours, and examining and restoring paintings.

At UVic, scientists use ground-based, airborne and satellite-based hyperspectral imaging systems to study the condition of targets such as soil and water surfaces or vegetation canopies. This information is used for various applications such as mapping the health of coastal environments, determining the risk factor for forest fires, or assessing forest health.

Niemann is an international leader in airborne remote sensing, especially for monitoring forest health and assessing insect infestation. In partnership with Terra Remote Sensing in Sidney, BC, he and his team have set a new standard for remote sensing of the environment by combining two advanced sensing methods—hyperspectral and LiDAR, which measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light.

As chair, Niemann will investigate innovative remote sensing techniques for resource exploration and environmental monitoring, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Using hyperspectral and LiDAR sensor payloads on UAVs is considered a “game changer” in the remote sensing field, and poses engineering and image acquisition challenges that Niemann and his team will explore.

UVic is the only Canadian university using both airborne LIDAR technology and hyperspectral imaging to advance its research capacity as a national and global leader in remote sensing. In fact, the research facilities developed by Niemann are unique to Canada.

Niemann joined UVic in 1988 and his work has already contributed to the rethinking of traditional forest inventory techniques, translating into significant savings for forest companies. Niemann has worked extensively with the Government of British Columbia (Ministries of Forests and Environment, and the BC Oil and Gas Commission).

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Keywords: geography, technology, research

People: Olaf Niemann

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