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Researchers hope drone detection will let sleeping bears lie


For the first time, Alaska researchers plan to use drones with thermal cameras to detect hibernating polar bears and grizzly bears on the North Slope.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks team is working without dedicated funding, but is seeking industry support for the project. For now, they’re relying on UAF resources like the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

Federal law requires oil and gas companies to remain one mile away from polar bear dens and a half mile away from grizzly bear dens from November to April. Otherwise, they risk disturbing their hibernation with noise and vibration from vehicles and other off-road operations. Keith Cunningham is a research assistant professor at UAF and has worked on drone data and applications for various organizations.

“On the North Slope right now, there are experts who are trained in chasing off bears that get too close to some of these oil production areas,” says Cunningham. “We call that bear hazing. There might be bean bags or fire crackers that are shot at the bear to scare it away.

Cunningham says the drones will use specialized cameras to detect the bears.

“These infrared cameras basically spot emitted thermal heat. A sleeping bear is actually burning calories and radiating heat. And you can pick that up with a camera.”

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26 October 2014
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