Science Shorts: PredictFest and hyperspectral imaging

This past week, IARC scientists presented their work alongside thousands of colleagues from around the world at the 2021 American Geophysical Union fall meeting. These Science Shorts, first published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, highlight some of that work. You can also find out more about UAF at AGU by searching for #UAFxAGU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

PredictFest brings people to the science

An upcoming science brainstorming event will take an uncommon approach to developing new Arctic-based research proposals: Include more people who aren’t researchers.

The effort, called PredictFest, will bring together at least a few dozen community members, scientists, programmers and students to develop new research ideas during a two-day virtual and in-person session on Feb. 24-25.

Erin Trochim, a research assistant professor at the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, was part of a similar effort at the International Arctic Research Center in 2017 that worked to predict snowfall in Fairbanks. It helped build relationships and illustrated the value of including people outside the science community, which can help keep proposals anchored in the real world, she said.

“Researchers are really good at talking to each other, but we’re not good at talking to community members or people who use our science,” Trochim said. “Finding balance in what’s interesting scientifically to what’s relevant is pretty essential.”

The upcoming effort could cover a broad range of potential Arctic-related topics — safety, health, resource management, planning and more. It is designed to identify ideas and see if they can be turned into viable research proposals.

“The topic areas are pretty fluid. We’re just looking for people who want to participate,” Trochim said. “It really helps focus the projects a lot more.”

Trochim is joined by IARC’s Tobias Schwoerer, Donna Hauser and Thomas Ballinger, as well as IARC affiliate Joe Little, as co-organizers of the event.

PredictFest is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Navigating the New Arctic program.

Hyperspectral imaging of forests can aid wildfire prevention

By Rod Boyce

Airborne hyperspectral imaging can be a valuable tool in wildfire prevention and forest management. That’s the message from a technology demonstration by a University of Alaska Fairbanks postdoctoral fellow who imaged Interior Alaska’s boreal forests to develop the method.

The practice demonstrated by Chris Waigl who, at the time of the research, was at the Geophysical Institute and is now a postdoctoral researcher at IARC, provides highly detailed imagery that indicates fuel type and that can also be used to monitor fuel condition — right down to the species of an individual tree. Is it a black spruce? Is it a birch? Is it alive?

It’s all vital information for wildfire prevention and community risk assessment.

“With the images and spectra we get from the HySpex camera, we can actually classify each pixel,” Waigl said. “We can even identify individual trees.”

Hyperspectral cameras image an area in hundreds of wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum, including many not visible to the human eye. That differs from other cameras, which typically only image in the primary colors of red, green and blue.

In hyperspectral imagery, the reflectivity of an object can reveal much more information about that object.

The Geophysical Institute has the only hyperspectral imaging facility in the state at its Hyperspectral Imaging Laboratory.

Waigl said hyperspectral imaging can be used for forest management, wildfire prevention and monitoring of fire risk around communities and infrastructure.

“We’re doing this because the existing fuel maps are not very good,” she said.

Learn about other presentations at AGU by IARC researchers and students.