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Polar bears from space: Satellite imagery a promising tool to monitor arctic polar bears

Date:
July 9, 2014
Source:
PLOS
Summary:
The potentially severe impacts of climate change in the Arctic may threaten regional wildlife. Scientists trying to develop efficient and effective wildlife monitoring techniques to track Arctic populations face great challenges, including the remoteness and associated logistical constraints of accessing wildlife. Polar bear population estimates based on satellite images are similar to aerial estimates, according to new research.

Example of high resolution satellite imagery used to detect polar bears. Imagery was procured from Rowley Island in Foxe Basin, Nunavut during late summer, 2012. The target imagery (a) was searched for polar bears, and the reference imagery (b) was used for comparison. Polar bears are present in the example target image but absent in the reference image (yellow circles). Landscape features that remain consistent between images, including rocks and substrate, are denoted with red arrows.
Credit: Satellite imagery published under a CC BY license, with permission from DigitalGlobe 2013; doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101513

Polar bear population estimates based on satellite images are similar to aerial estimates, according to a study published July 9, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Seth Stapleton from United States Geological Survey and colleagues.

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The potentially severe impacts of climate change in the Arctic may threaten regional wildlife. Scientists trying to develop efficient and effective wildlife monitoring techniques to track Arctic populations face great challenges, including the remoteness and associated logistical constraints of accessing wildlife.

In this study, scientists evaluated high-resolution satellite imagery to track the distribution and abundance of polar bears on a small island in northern Canada in an attempt to develop a tool to monitor these difficult to reach populations. Specifically, the authors examined satellite images of the island with a high density of bears, during the ice-free summer and compared the images to aerial and ground surveys collected on different dates.

The estimate of ~90 bears based on satellite imagery was similar to an abundance estimate of ~100 bears made from an aerial survey conducted a few days earlier. These findings support satellite imagery as a tool for monitoring polar bears on land, which could potentially be applied to other Arctic wildlife. The authors suggest that further automated detection developments and testing in different landscapes may provide information about benefits for large-scale application of the technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by PLOS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Stapleton S, LaRue M, Lecomte N, Atkinson S, Garshelis D, et al. Polar Bears from Space: Assessing Satellite Imagery as a Tool to Track Arctic Wildlife. PLoS ONE, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101513

Cite This Page:

PLOS. "Polar bears from space: Satellite imagery a promising tool to monitor arctic polar bears." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140709151624.htm>.
PLOS. (2014, July 9). Polar bears from space: Satellite imagery a promising tool to monitor arctic polar bears. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140709151624.htm
PLOS. "Polar bears from space: Satellite imagery a promising tool to monitor arctic polar bears." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140709151624.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

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