Unmanned Airborne Systems (UAS) or ‘Drones’ – are they the answer for precision vegetation monitoring?

Unmanned Airborne Systems (UAS), Unmanned Airborne Vehicles (UAV), or Drones as commonly referred to, have captured the imagination of people. Their potential applications are almost endless, but are they the most appropriate platform for collection of airborne imagery on vegetation cover and condition.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 3.10.26 pm

Change detection multispectral imagery at 1m pixel resolution acquired from fixed-wing plane. Inset: 1cm true colour imagery acquired using an UAS.

ArborCarbon scientists have been conducting research on the applications of satellite and airborne multi and hyperspectral imagery for more than 10 years. The variety of platforms carrying the sensing device (e.g. camera) include satellite, fixed-wing plane, helicopter and UAS. The range of sensors attached to these platforms include multispectral and hyperspectral imaging devices. ArborCarbon scientists first started using UAS in projects for capturing airborne imagery over vegetation monitoring sites in 2010 and were the first company in the world to do so for vegetation monitoring to determine the potential impacts of groundwater drawdown and alteration of sheet flow on mulga and riparian communities in Australia.

We are very selective about using UAS platforms for the capture of airborne imagery to measure and monitor vegetation cover and condition, including in precision agriculture and measurement of NDVI, as we have a close understanding of all the factors that affect these measurements. The arrival of many new ‘drone’ platforms and cheap multispectral cameras onto the market has certainly raised the profile of remote sensing and its potential application for precision vegetation management. However, there are many times when there are greater costs associated with acquiring data using these platforms due to mobilisation, limitations on battery life, and processing time.

We encourage anybody looking to use remote sensing for precision vegetation monitoring, whether that be for trees, horticulture, agriculture or turf, to carefully consider the range of platforms and sensors available, and discuss these with people who have an unbiased view.

The Giving Tree


Going to the trouble of building around  beautiful mature trees is well worth the effort.

This amazing home which was built by the principal of Modal Design in the LA suburb of Venice, California, is a great example.  Read the article about this project in Dwell Magazine .

California has a hot and dry climate similar to many parts of Australia and US designers in the warmer states like California and Texas especially, are increasingly incorporating mature amenity trees in their designs, with stunning results.

Studies show that trees  add value to properties, so it is about visual appeal.  As urban temperatures rise, properties with large shade trees will become increasingly sought after.

The benefits are both visual and tangible  Outdoor areas like the one below can be enjoyed from day one in a new home, improving quality of life immensely.  Man-made shade sails and structures just don’t enhance the amenity or cool like big shade trees.














At ArborCarbon we have received a noticeable increase in enquiries from planners and designers requesting Arboricultural reports in their initial site context analyses, with the objective of retaining and building around existing trees.  Builders are also contacting us for advice on how to protect trees on construction sites.

It is great  to see more people thinking outside the square and incorporating and protecting beautiful mature trees. The health benefits provided to the occupants of a dwelling by surrounding trees should not be underestimated.






Climate change could put eucalypts at risk of death from air bubbles

“Extreme droughts could lead to widespread death of eucalypts from embolisms, researchers say.

ArborCarbon scientists have co-authored publications that have investigated the link between bioclimate events like drought to the decline of eucalypt forests in Western Australi.

Key points

  • Some trees can shrink the width of their water transport vessels in response to lack of water
  • Eucalypts are not able to do this which puts them at risk of developing air bubbles in their vessels
  • This would make them vulnerable to extreme heatwaves and drought due to climate change”

Read the Article on ABC Science

What is Tomnod?

Tomnod (the Mongolian word for “Big Eye”) is a crowdsourcing platform run by commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe that combines the powers of crowdsourcing and timely satellite imagery. It enables volunteers to identify objects of interest in satellite images, typically for response and recovery efforts after disasters.

The crowdsourcing platform allows volunteers to comb through imagery captured by DigitalGlobe’s constellation of satellites and “tag” areas of interest that are suspicious or require further study. An algorithm is then used to tally up these “tags” and flag areas that consistently attract attention.


Examples of Previous Tomnod Campaigns

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370

Just hours after the disappearance of Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, DigitalGlobe repositioned two of their five satellites over the Gulf of Thailand region – the last known location of the aircraft.

Tomnad then launched a campaign to allow volunteers to scan and tag satellite images of the search area. The virtual search party were given directions to tag any hints of airplane wreckage, life rafts, oil slicks or anything interesting or suspicious

Over 8 million joined Flight MH370 campaign on the Tomnod platform, tagging millions of possible clues spanning 1,007,750 square kilometres of high resolution satellite imagery (DigitalGlobe, 2014).


Sampson Flat Bushfire, Adelaide

Within 12 hours of The Sampson Flat bushfire which started on Friday 2nd January 2015 in the Adelaide Hills, two satellites were making regular passes over the area and providing detailed photographs of the fire ground.

Tomnod then launched a crowd sourcing campaign to enable volunteers to help identify burnt buildings, damaged roads etc. More than 3,500 users from around the world began pinpointing buildings destroyed by the bushfires days before damage assessors could access the site. Volunteers were able to match a pre-fire map with the latest satellite images and determine areas where buildings had been destroyed or badly damaged. Online maps were also created to plot the growing footprint of the bushfire and display ready reserves of people willing to help during the fires.

Overview of Worldview-2 RGB satellite imagery acquired on the 4th (Copyright DigitalGlobe)


Hawaii Forests

In partnership with Hawaii’s Nature Conservancy, Tomnod launched a crowdsourcing campaign to help preserve Hawaii’s remaining native forests which were becoming threatened by invasive plants that were aggressively spreading throughout. In fact, these invasive species had contributed to the destruction of more than 50 percent of Hawaii’s native forests, according to The Nature Conservancy.

The campaign targeted two invasive plants: the Australian tree fern and the African tulip tree.

Tomnod figure 2 & 3


The project allowed volunteers to pinpoint the location of each weed for The Nature Conservancy to focus its efforts on and curb the spread of these plants.

Tomnod’s crowdsourcing platform has been involved in the response and recovery efforts for numerous natural and man-made disasters, but this was the first campaign launched specifically for environmental conservations efforts.

How to use Tomnod

To become a part of this invisible army, just visit the Tomnod website. Click through the introductory text and press Start Tagging! on the Tomnod screen to start your search.

Mysterious disease threatening historic trees in Cape Town

“Scientists are baffled by a mysterious disease that is threatening some historic trees [planted in 1989] at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. Several trees in Camphor Avenue are showing symptoms of an unknown sickness.”

Camphora trees dying









Five of the 45 Camphor Trees  (Cinnamomum Camphora) had been affected. Samples have been sent to our friends and colleagues at the FABI to assist with diagnosis. ArborCarbon’s chief scientist has co-authored several publications describing new fungal pathogen’s associated with tree diseases from various parts of the world.

Watch video

Camphora trees sign

Today Tonight (Perth) – Trees and development


ArborCarbon’s  Dr Paul Barber, was asked to comment on last night’s Today Tonight;

“Trees keep us cooler and are good for our health, so why are we chopping so many down?”