skip to main content

Title: The Utility of Satellites and Autonomous Remote Sensing Platforms for Monitoring Offshore Aquaculture Farms: A Case Study for Canopy Forming Kelps
The emerging sector of offshore kelp aquaculture represents an opportunity to produce biofuel feedstock to help meet growing energy demand. Giant kelp represents an attractive aquaculture crop due to its rapid growth and production, however precision farming over large scales is required to make this crop economically viable. These demands necessitate high frequency monitoring to ensure outplant success, maximum production, and optimum quality of harvested biomass, while the long distance from shore and large necessary scales of production makes in person monitoring impractical. Remote sensing offers a practical monitoring solution and nascent imaging technologies could be leveraged to provide daily products of the kelp canopy and subsurface structures over unprecedented spatial scales. Here, we evaluate the efficacy of remote sensing from satellites and aerial and underwater autonomous vehicles as potential monitoring platforms for offshore kelp aquaculture farms. Decadal-scale analyses of the Southern California Bight showed that high offshore summertime cloud cover restricts the ability of satellite sensors to provide high frequency direct monitoring of these farms. By contrast, daily monitoring of offshore farms using sensors mounted to aerial and underwater drones seems promising. Small Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (sUAS) carrying lightweight optical sensors can provide estimates of canopy area, density, and tissue nitrogen content on the time and space scales necessary for observing changes in this highly dynamic species. Underwater color imagery can be rapidly classified using deep learning models to identify kelp outplants on a longline farm and high acoustic returns of kelp pneumatocysts from side scan sonar imagery signal an ability to monitor the subsurface development of kelp fronds. Current sensing technologies can be used to develop additional machine learning and spectral algorithms to monitor outplant health and canopy macromolecular content, however future developments in vehicle and infrastructure technologies are necessary to reduce costs and transcend operational limitations for continuous deployment in an offshore setting.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Marine Science
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Kelp forests are complex underwater habitats that form the foundation of many nearshore marine environments and provide valuable services for coastal communities. Despite their ecological and economic importance, increasingly severe stressors have resulted in declines in kelp abundance in many regions over the past few decades, including the North Coast of California, USA. Given the significant and sustained loss of kelp in this region, management intervention is likely a necessary tool to reset the ecosystem and geospatial data on kelp dynamics are needed to strategically implement restoration projects. Because canopy‐forming kelp forests are distinguishable in aerial imagery, remote sensing is an important tool for documenting changes in canopy area and abundance to meet these data needs. We used small unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey emergent kelp canopy in priority sites along the North Coast in 2019 and 2020 to fill a key data gap for kelp restoration practitioners working at local scales. With over 4,300 hectares surveyed between 2019 and 2020, these surveys represent the two largest marine resource‐focused UAV surveys conducted in California to our knowledge. We present remote sensing methods using UAVs and a repeatable workflow for conducting consistent surveys, creating orthomosaics, georeferencing data, classifying emergent kelp and creating kelp canopy maps that can be used to assess trends in kelp canopy dynamics over space and time. We illustrate the impacts of spatial resolution on emergent kelp canopy classification between different sensors to help practitioners decide which data stream to select when asking restoration and management questions at varying spatial scales. Our results suggest that high spatial resolution data of emergent kelp canopy from UAVs have the potential to advance strategic kelp restoration and adaptive management.

    more » « less
  2. Satellite and aerial imagery have been used extensively for mapping the abundance and distribution of giant kelp ( Macrocystis pyrifera ) in southern California. There is now great potential for using unoccupied aerial vehicles (UAVs) to map kelp canopy at very high resolutions. However, tides and currents have been shown to affect the amount of floating kelp canopy on the water surface, and the impacts of these processes on remotely sensed kelp estimates in this region have not been fully quantified. UAVs were used to map fine-scale changes in canopy area due to tidal height and current speed at kelp forests off the coast of Palos Verdes, CA and Santa Barbara, CA. An automated method for detecting kelp canopy was developed that was 67% accurate using red-green-blue (RGB) UAV imagery and 93% accurate using multispectral UAV imagery across a range of weather, ocean, and illumination conditions. Increases in tidal height of 1 m reduced the amount of floating kelp canopy by 15% in Santa Barbara and by over 30% in Palos Verdes. The effect of current speed on visible kelp canopy was inconclusive, but there was a trend towards lower canopy area with increased current speed. Therefore, while tidal height and current speed can introduce significant variability to estimates of kelp abundance, the magnitude of this variability is site specific. Still, UAVs are a valuable tool for mapping of kelp canopy and can provide greater spatial resolution and temporal coverage than is possible from many satellite sensors. This data can provide insight into the patterns and drivers of high frequency fluctuations in kelp abundance. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Phenology is a distinct marker of the impacts of climate change on ecosystems. Accordingly, monitoring the spatiotemporal patterns of vegetation phenology is important to understand the changing Earth system. A wide range of sensors have been used to monitor vegetation phenology, including digital cameras with different viewing geometries mounted on various types of platforms. Sensor perspective, view-angle, and resolution can potentially impact estimates of phenology. We compared three different methods of remotely sensing vegetation phenology—an unoccupied aerial vehicle (UAV)-based, downward-facing RGB camera, a below-canopy, upward-facing hemispherical camera with blue (B), green (G), and near-infrared (NIR) bands, and a tower-based RGB PhenoCam, positioned at an oblique angle to the canopy—to estimate spring phenological transition towards canopy closure in a mixed-species temperate forest in central Virginia, USA. Our study had two objectives: (1) to compare the above- and below-canopy inference of canopy greenness (using green chromatic coordinate and normalized difference vegetation index) and canopy structural attributes (leaf area and gap fraction) by matching below-canopy hemispherical photos with high spatial resolution (0.03 m) UAV imagery, to find the appropriate spatial coverage and resolution for comparison; (2) to compare how UAV, ground-based, and tower-based imagery performed in estimating the timing of the spring phenological transition. We found that a spatial buffer of 20 m radius for UAV imagery is most closely comparable to below-canopy imagery in this system. Sensors and platforms agree within +/− 5 days of when canopy greenness stabilizes from the spring phenophase into the growing season. We show that pairing UAV imagery with tower-based observation platforms and plot-based observations for phenological studies (e.g., long-term monitoring, existing research networks, and permanent plots) has the potential to scale plot-based forest structural measures via UAV imagery, constrain uncertainty estimates around phenophases, and more robustly assess site heterogeneity. 
    more » « less
  4. Disentangling the roles of the external environment and internal biotic drivers of plant population dynamics is challenging due to the absence of relevant physiological and abundance information over appropriate space and time scales. Remote observations of giant kelp biomass and photosynthetic pigment concentrations are used to show that spatiotemporal patterns of physiological condition, and thus growth and production, are regulated by different processes depending on the scale of observation. Nutrient supply was linked to regional scale (>1 km) physiological condition dynamics, and kelp forest stands were more persistent where nutrient levels were consistently high. However, on local scales (<1 km), internal senescence processes related to canopy age demographics determined patterns of biomass loss across individual kelp forests despite uniform nutrient conditions. Repeat measurements of physiology over continuous spatial fields can provide insights into complex dynamics that are unexplained by the environmental drivers thought to regulate abundance. Emerging remote sensing technologies that provide simultaneous estimates of abundance and physiology can quantify the roles of environmental change and demographics governing plant population dynamics for a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. 
    more » « less
  5. Sustainable aquaculture includes the aquaculture of non-fed crops that provide ecosystem services including nutrient extraction and water quality improvement. While shellfish are the most farmed sustainable aquaculture crops in the USA, shellfish farmers in the northeastern US have an interest in diversifying their crops and incorporating seaweeds into their farms. In this study, we worked with oyster farmers to investigate the potential for farming sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima , across different environmental regimes in coastal Rhode Island USA. Kelp seed spools were outplanted at two time points in the fall/winter of 2017 and 2018 at four sites and cultivated until harvest the following spring. Kelp performance (length, width, yield), tissue content, and nutrient extraction were determined for each line in each year; oyster growth was also measured monthly for one year at each site. We found that kelp could successfully grow in both shallow coastal lagoons and estuarine sites, although the timing of planting and placement of sites was important. Lines that were planted earlier (as soon as water temperatures<15°C) grew longer and yielded more biomass at harvest; overall, kelp blade yield ranged from 0.36 ± 0.01 to 11.26 ± 2.18 kg/m long line. We report little variation in the tissue quality (C:N) of kelp among sites, but differences in biomass production led to differences in nutrient extraction, which ranged from 0.28 ± 0.04 to 16.35 ± 4.26 g nitrogen/m long line and 8.93 ± 0.35 to 286.30 ± 74.66 g carbon/m long line. We found extensive variability in kelp growth within and between lines and between years, suggesting that crop consistency is a challenge for kelp farmers in the region. Our results suggest that, as there is a lower barrier in terms of permitting (versus starting a new aquaculture farm), it may be a worthwhile investment to add sugar kelp to existing oyster farms, provided they have suitable conditions. At current market rates of US$0.88-$3.30 per kg, farmers in southern New England have the potential to earn US$2,229 per 60 m longline. While seaweed aquaculture is growing, considerable barriers still exist that prevent wide-scale kelp aquaculture adoption by existing aquafarmers. 
    more » « less