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Conservation Drones and Thermal Fingerprints Help Endangered Species

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An astrophysics-ecology drone project could be the answer to many global conservation efforts.

False-color, thermal-infrared image of a 'crash' of rhinos taken from drone video footage at Knowsley Safari Park in Prescot, England.
False-color, thermal-infrared image of a "crash" of rhinos taken from drone video footage at Knowsley Safari Park in Prescot, England. Courtesy of LJMU.

Using drones, thermal cameras and techniques used to analyze objects in space, an astrophysicist and an ecologist from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) are hoping to help endangered species such as the rhino and the orangutan.

Professor Serge Wich, from LJMU's School of Natural Sciences and Psychology and the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, is a pioneer in using drones for conservation work and is the founder of

"As an 'eye in the sky', conservation drones are helping the fight against illegal deforesting, poaching and habitat destruction, all leading to many species being endangered, including rhinos, orangutans and elephants," said Wich. "Now, teamed with the same astrophysics analysis techniques used to find and identify objects in the far-distant universe, we can try to do this more efficiently."

Through extensive research and conservation work using drones and thermal cameras, the scientists hope to tackle biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse by allowing anyone in the world to upload their aerial data and get back geo-locations in real time.

"Astrophysicists have been using thermal cameras for many decades. Crucially, it turns out the techniques we've developed to find and characterize the faintest objects in the universe are exactly those needed to find and identify objects in thermal images taken with drones," said Steve Longmore from the LJMU Astrophysics Research Institute. "The key to success is building libraries of the thermal heat profiles that act like 'thermal finger prints,' allowing us to uniquely identify any animals detected. Our goal is to build the definitive finger print libraries and automated pipeline that all future efforts will rely upon."

The next stage of this research is to start expanding these techniques to other significant applications, including disaster relief and search and rescue.

This new drone technology is part of the growing technological innovation within LJMU.

Wich and Longmore’s research study has been published in the International Journal of Remote Sensing (

Apr 2017
camerasindustrialbiodiversitythermal camerasdroneseducationResearch & TechnologyLJMULiverpool John Moores UniversitySerge WichSteve LongmoreastrophysicsecologyEcosystemSensors & DetectorsimagingopticsBioScanBiophotonics

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