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3D aerial maps of fires in South Australia aid recovery

Adelaide-based Airborne Research Australia (ARA), which is a not-for-profit research institute that grew out of Flinders University, is creating free 3D high-resolution maps of the devastation caused by fires in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.


According to a recent press release, the maps will help communities recover and reduce future fire risks.

These will assist communities, emergency services agencies and researchers to plan recovery from South Australia’s summer infernos.

Moreover, these will help in better understanding fire behaviour and develop future fire defence strategies.

The founder and Chief Scientist of ARA, Flinders University Emeritus Professor Jorg Hacker, explained that high-resolution mapping data would help plan for community recovery and future fire prevention.

The data will be freely available to people in the research community in order for them to study and use it to obtain insights that will help communities better prepare against fires and to assist fire defenders to plan their strategies against these unprecedented fire events.

About the initiative

The maps contain unprecedented detail and are available on their website.

Data for these high-resolution maps are collected from low, slow flights by crewed motor gliders equipped with LIDAR, hyperspectral sensors and high-resolution RGB cameras.

LIDAR is a surveying system that uses light from a laser to measure the distance to a target by illuminating it with laser light and measuring the reflected light with a sensor.

Differences in laser return times and wavelengths can be used to make digital 3D maps of the target.

High-resolution RGB (Red Green Blue) cameras complement data from LIDAR and hyperspectral sensors to produce images with 6-8 cm pixel size over large areas of land.

It will then render this mapping data in three dimensions (3D) and animates it as fly-throughs to simplify viewing.

In many cases, remote sensing data taken from fire-affected areas disappear into a black hole. Thus, the general public either never sees it or sees only a down-sampled low-resolution version.

The aim is to make all this data available to the public, particularly those directly affected, in order to help them recover their landscape, more specifically their natural landscape.

The sensors can map in unprecedented detail landscape and forest features that are not visible with standard aerial photography or satellite data or from the ground.

The combination of LIDAR and hyperspectral sensors provides centimetre resolution detail, which allows for detection of the location of such habitats and the state and structure of the undergrowth with LIDAR as well as the state of health of the surviving vegetation with hyperspectral scanning.

Professor Hacker shared that their maps were much more detailed than commercial aerial surveys because most commercial cases fly high in order to get coverage of large areas.

Meanwhile, the company’s planes are derived from a glider, so they can fly low and slow, with minimal fuel usage.

Drones are not a viable option because they cannot carry the sensors being used and are limited in their range. The planes allow them to cover remote areas such as Kangaroo Island, flying from Adelaide.


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