The Sky’s the Limit

Alfred Bog: The Sky’s The Limit
Keegan Smith, M.Sc. Geography

On September 21st and 28th, DGES grad students took to the skies over eastern Ontario! The flight’s purpose was to reconnoiter Alfred Bog, a peatland under study by Ph.D. student Koreen Millard. Over the course of the two flights, Koreen was accompanied by Carleton DGES M.Sc. students Cassandra Michel, Alex Foster & yours truly as well as Ottawa U B.Sc. student Lindsay Armstrong.

Google Earth Image showing the location of Alfred Bog (orange circle) near Ottawa.

Google Earth Image showing the location of Alfred Bog (orange circle) near Ottawa.

Alex F ready for takeoff. It was a small plane, but somehow it seemed smaller from the backseat…

Alex F ready for takeoff. It was a small plane, but somehow it seemed smaller from the backseat…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piloted by Luke Copland, Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Ottawa, our 4-seater Cessna took off late in the morning from the Rockcliffe airport with a full load-out of geographers and their camera equipment. Each student was armed with a digital camera, while two downward-pointing VIRBs were tied on to the legs of the plane (a VIRB is a hardy little camera made by Garmin – kind of like a GoPro, but with a GPS tag, making it a lot more useful).

This end down: A Garmin VIRB camera strapped to the leg of our plane, oriented to take shots of the surface.

This end down: A Garmin VIRB camera strapped to the leg of our plane, oriented to take shots of the surface.

We arrived at Alfred in what seemed like mere minutes (normally the trip takes over an hour on the highway), and were soon zooming around over the bog, taking photos and videos as fast as possible. After conducting fieldwork there on the ground, the aerial perspective was almost alien to me. We kept an eye out for bears and moose; those on the first flight saw both, though Koreen noted, “We didn’t manage to get any photos as were flying over at 200km per hour!”

Down through the Tamaracks: A dizzying fish-eye shot (straight down) from the VIRB (note the plane’s shadow at top right)

Down through the Tamaracks: A dizzying fish-eye shot (straight down) from the VIRB (note the plane’s shadow at top right)

Koreen hopes to use SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar), a form of satellite-based remote sensing, to allow her to monitor the elevation of the Alfred Bog’s surface, which changes over time in response to the height of the water table and gas buildup. The potential is there for hydrologists to be able to use SAR to monitor water tables without needing to physically install wells.

Marisa (current BA student), hard at work gathering water table depth measurements.

Marisa (current BA student), hard at work gathering water table depth measurements.

Mobility: Alfred’s variable conditions – ranging from dense vegetation to standing water that can be more than knee-deep requires strategy. Here, Koreen prepares to use her snowshoes to traverse a particularly wet area. Field work at Alfred bog involves long, arduous days of difficult walking making remote sensing a particularly attractive tool for gathering data.

Mobility: Alfred’s variable conditions – ranging from dense vegetation to standing water that can be more than knee-deep requires strategy. Here, Koreen prepares to use her snowshoes to traverse a particularly wet area. Field work at Alfred bog involves long, arduous days of difficult walking making remote sensing a particularly attractive tool for gathering data.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Remote sensing doesn’t actually measure the physical parameters we want to understand,” says Koreen. “It measures reflectance or signal intensity and we have to develop models and methods of relating reflectance/signal intensity to the physical landscape parameters. This requires extensive field measurements – and if you want to understand change over time, you need to be repeatedly collecting measurements.”
But why go up in a plane (other than for the fun of it)? “I am trying to capture data from the bog throughout the growing season,” says Koreen. “One of the ways to do this is with a technique called ‘Structure from Motion’ that uses photos to create a 3D model. We hooked up a couple of cameras to the airplane and were taking overlapping airphotos while flying. This flight was just a test – a sort of proof of concept and we plan to employ this technique with a UAV in the future.”

An aerial view of the edge of Alfred Bog, showing some of the landscape changes introduced by the peat-mining industry there

An aerial view of the edge of Alfred Bog, showing some of the landscape changes introduced by the peat-mining industry there

Some fluvial/slope processes in action here

Some fluvial/slope processes in action here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work is being done as an assessment of the area before attempts are made by the South Nation Conservation Authority (who have also helped to fund the research in the area) to restore the bog, which has undergone extensive modification through drainage and peat mining. The conclusions that stand to be drawn from the research work, however, have much wider applicability in our understanding of wetland hydrology and biogeography.

“Wetlands are unique environments that I think sometimes can be undervalued by your everyday person,” says BA student Marisa Ramey, one of the research assistants working with Koreen. “And I don’t just mean they are unique because of the ecosystem services they provide. They are beautiful places, and full of little puzzles. They are not easily defined, or easy to traverse. They are like their own little adventure. A place where you can still feel like the last person on earth.”

The peat provides a habitat for plants, animals, and fungi. This Russula mushroom, growing among the Sphagnum in symbiosis with a nearby conifer, provides food for a slug – giving a literal snapshot of the interconnections in the bog ecosystem.

The peat provides a habitat for plants, animals, and fungi. This Russula mushroom, growing among the Sphagnum in symbiosis with a nearby conifer, provides food for a slug – giving a literal snapshot of the interconnections in the bog ecosystem.

After a long day in the field, we’re damp, smelly, and tired. But the drive home starts like this. You couldn’t ask for a better place to work.

After a long day in the field, we’re damp, smelly, and tired. But the drive home starts like this. You couldn’t ask for a better place to work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flight path video needs some music so play this YouTube video while watching:

Check out this link to a YouTube video of our flight path:

 

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