Research chair sheds light on Earth’s surface

Social Sciences

The University of Victoria is partnering with the province to develop new ways of using airborne sensors to gather information about the environment and natural resources, including forest health, invasive plant species and mineral mapping.

UVic geographer Olaf Niemann, an international leader in remote sensing technology, is the newly appointed BC Leadership Chair in Hyperspectral Remote Sensing. It is the first and only research program in this field in Canada.

The province has provided $2.25 million to permanently endow the chair through its Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF). The provincial contribution has been matched by funds from UVic and the University of Victoria Foundation.

“LEEF is supporting world-class research at UVic,” says Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. “Olaf Niemann is one example of why BC’s tech industry is growing by leaps and bounds and is a key economic driver for our province.”

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 imaging collects and measures visible light reflected from surface features like rocks, trees and water, as well as the non-visible energy they emit down to the size of an atom.

At UVic, scientists use ground-based, airborne and satellite-based hyperspectral imaging systems to study the condition of targets such as water surfaces or vegetation canopies. This information is used in many ways, such as mapping the health of coastal environments, determining the risk of forest fires or assessing the extent of pine beetle infestation.

“Dr. Niemann’s appointment to this chair builds on UVic’s world leadership in hyperspectral remote sensing,” says UVic Vice-President Research David Castle. “Thanks to the Leading Edge Endowment Fund and the generosity of matching donors, Dr. Niemann and his team will continue their innovative work on natural resource challenges and opportunities.”

UVic is the only academic institution in Canada to have an airborne hyperspectral scanner, operated in partnership with Terra Remote Sensing in Sidney, BC. The scanner is combined with other sensors—such as thermal scanners, digital cameras and a LiDAR scanning laser system—to address issues in environmental monitoring and resource management.

The endowed chair will allow Niemann and his team to continue their work with government, industry and other university researchers as they investigate new remote sensing techniques, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to collect hyperspectral images.

“I’m excited by the integration of remote sensing technologies,” says Niemann. “Combining my work in hyperspectral and LiDAR sensing with UAV technology is a game changer when it comes to environmental monitoring. This technology will give us the capability to answer questions related to mineral exploration, the impact of mine tailings, and forest health.

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Media contacts

>Dr. Olaf Niemann (Department of Geography) at 250-721-7329 or

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Keywords: geography, technology, research

People: Olaf Niemann

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