Monthly magazine of the Federation of NOT Scientific and Technical Associations

30th edition of the Golden Engineer poll

Remote sensing in forest management and protection

From Dr. hab. Krzysztof Stereńczak, prof. IBL, deputy director of the of the Forest Research Institute, head of the IBL’s Geomatics Department, is interviewed by Jerzy Bojanowicz.

– How does the Department of Geomatics, which you head and which integrates computer science with the forestry environment, situate itself within the Forest Research Institute?

– It currently employs 18 people and is one of its larger plants. It was created as a result of several geomatics projects that wereacquired.

Thus, as part of the Life Program, which ended last year, we monitored the stand dynamics of the Bialowieza Forest, and as part of the Biostrateg Program, we analyzed aspects of forest carbon sequestration and developed, among other things. method of their inventory using airborne laser scanning data. Both projects, of which I was the main author and manager, we obtained almost at the same time, in 2013-2014, which required building the teams implementing them. There were more than 30 people who became part of the Department of Geomatics, which was later created. But at IBL, the geomatics group has been in place for several decades. It was often associated with the Department of Forest Management, and later the Department of Computer Science and Modeling was established, which was then incorporated into the Department of Forest Resources Management, from which it was finally separated in 2018.

As a Department, we create solutions that automate the processing of large spatial data sets – remote sensing, we develop tools, especially related to the analysis of airborne raster scanning, a system consisting of LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging): a device that sends light beams at a certain frequency towards the ground, covering (scanning) a specific strip of land. LiDAR can be hooked up to a helicopter or airplane platform, as well as placed on a tripod on the ground.

Currently, in cooperation with the State Forests, we are implementing a method developed at the Institute in collaboration with the team of Professor. Stanislaw Miścicki of the Institute of Forestry Sciences at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, which will allow for the estimation of forests managed by the State Forests National Forest Holding that cover 80% of Poland, using airborne laser scanning. We give methodical and software solutions.

– Who is the author of this remote sensing data that you are digitally processing?

– There are photogrammetric companies on the market that acquire, for example, airborne laser scanning data for a specific forestry district, for example. In contrast, we give foresters a method – an application that will allow them to apply some kind of solution that “consumes” this commercially available data.

I don’t want to deal with the development of equipment, which other institutes or units are already for. As a Plant, we want to consume this data in a reasonably universal way, regardless of what scanner collected it, so that the “point cloud” is properly processed and the solution itself implemented in practice.

– And the GIS, or geographic information system, which you also use?

– Varies. The important thing is that we have several levels of data. In the case of aerial scanning data, the provider of the “point cloud” may process it in some way and provide us with, for example, a numerical terrain model, i.e., land surface elevation, or a numerical land cover model, and so on. We, however, this “cloud” ourselves begin to process and create thematic, or “gis” layers, which are the output for later analysis.

We know that in Poland many institutions also produce this data. And if they are available, and necessary for our analyses, we also obtain them.

– What purpose do they serve?

– Almost every element of the activities performed in forest management can be supported by them.

Today, due to climate change, a very important issue is the protection of forests, since prolonged drought, frosts or strong winds, negatively affect the vegetation – weakening or damaging it, in effect triggering, for example, the gradation of bark beetles or other insects or fungal diseases. We are trying to develop methods that will speed up the detection of the problem in its early stages. Large sections of the infested or damaged stand are seen by foresters. But bark beetle gradation often begins with individual infected trees. Remote sensing images make it possible to record and detect incipient stages over huge areas and the forester can remove this threat.

When the Bialowieza Forest was in the news years ago due to the print bark beetle, we implemented the Life+ForBioSensing project, which, among other things. We pointed out individual dead trees recorded in remote sensing data. As part of this project, we created the necessary maps showing the condition of individual trees, and then studied this phenomenon in the context of its temporal and spatial dynamics. At the same time, the Ministry of Climate and Environment asked us for an expert opinion and to show where there is a potential threat of dead trees along transportation routes. We made this expertise, which was later used in the management of the Bialowieza Forest. Dead standing trees are a big problem, for the reason that we don’t know if, when and in what direction it will fall! And according to current regulations, the forest manager is responsible for the sanitary condition of the forest and is obliged to remove such trees. When a healthy one topples over, such as a hurricane, it is a matter of chance, which often cannot be predicted.

Currently, we are also dealing with issues related to forest management, a branch of forestry that includes. We estimate the size of forest resources on the ground and plan activities for the next 10 years, because every so many years forest management plans are made in Poland. When working on creating plans, some of the characteristics of trees and stands are measured, and some are assessed in the field by an experienced taxidermist.

Our work aims to automate and objectify forest measurements so that specialists can focus on planning future operations and how to manage specific stands.

– Which of the tasks carried out by the Department do you consider most useful in managing the forest environment?

– I will include four of them. I will start with the study and hydrological analysis performed in 2016-2019 within the framework of the international WAMBAF project funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the Interreg Baltic Sea Region and, in the national part, the IBL. It touched on issues related to the operation and maintenance of drainage facilities, the impact of beaver dams on water quality, forest management in the vicinity of surface water, and modern tools to support water management in forests. Its results were used in the WAMBAF Tool Box project (2019-2021), which implemented solutions for forestry to reduce the inflow of pollutants and harmful substances exported from forests via watercourses to the waters of the Baltic Sea.

Another important task is the project “Big data in monitoring tourist traffic and valorization of cultural ecosystem services in forest areas within the Warsaw and Vienna metropolitan areas,” funded by the National Science Center (NCN). Tasks of the project include: identification of factors influencing recreational use of forest areas; valorization of cultural ecosystem services (CES); mapping of temporal and spatial distribution of activities in forest areas; indication of directions of public movement from the place of residence to selected forest complexes; development of methodology for processing and analysis of Big Data in their use for CES purposes. Analysis of the spatial and temporal use of forests by people helps identify the most attractive areas and improve their infrastructure or attractiveness.

– … putting, for example, waste garbage cans!

– Exactly. Beneficiary of the Lead Agency Procedure collaboration in the Weave program and funded by NCN under the “OPUS 22” competition, the project led by Drs. Eng. Mariusz Ciesielski, assistant professor in my Department, is a consortium consisting of the Forest Research Institute – Leader (we received 1.04 of the PLN 1.58 million in funding) and Warsaw University of Technology (Polish partner) and the University of Life Sciences in Vienna (Leader of the Austrian part of the project).

A big sentence carried out practically from the beginning of the team’s existence is the development of remote methods of monitoring the condition of forests, which can be carried out using various data and methods. As part of the Life+ ForBioSensing project “Comprehensive monitoring of the dynamics of Bialowieza Forest stands using remote sensing data” implemented in 2014-2022, we tested a large number of different types of remote sensing data, creating a number of methods that enable multi-temporal analysis of tree dieback dynamics using the concept of “precision forestry.”

The last group of tasks carried out at the Department is the development of methodologies for the broadly understood inventory of timber resources using airborne laser scanning data and methods for calculating the amount of accumulated carbon in forest ecosystems. In this regard, we are responsible for the implementation in the State Forests of innovative methods and IT tools that enable their practical use by foresters.

– The institutes, including IBL, participate in many research projects. In which active is your plant?

– We are currently implementing several. In addition to the aforementioned “Big data…” project. we participate in the COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) action, integrating people involved in short-range remote sensing – 3DForEcoTech. Within the framework of this European Commission-funded project, we are trying to gather the available knowledge and assess where we are in the development of modern technologies that enable the measurement and evaluation of individual trees. And within the framework of the project “Expansion of the method of forest condition management inventory using the results of the REMBIOFOR project,” funded by the Directorate General of State Forests, we are changing the method of forest inventory within forest management and implementing methods based on the use of airborne laser scanning.

Of course, we are creating and applying for more projects.

– He invited Mr. IDEAS NCBR Sp. z o.o. to supported the development of doctoral students and young researchers pursuing work in the area of using artificial intelligence (AI) in precision forestry. What is it supposed to consist of?

– NCRD’s IDEAS can be compared to Germany’s Max Planck Institute: we have a number of team or research group leaders, forming what is known as a “research group. permanent positions, but within the framework of a certain research direction, we search for doctoral students and postdocs for temporary positions.

The doctoral student continues his studies at the doctoral school with which we have an agreement, but IDEAS employs him on a full-time basis and for 4 years he gets extra pay, in addition to the stipend. As a result, he is only concerting with his doctorate on computer science, or more precisely, artificial intelligence. With postdocs, we sign a 2-year contract, which we can extend by 9 months. They carry out dedicated projects that fit into the agenda of the group or research team.

– And what do you think about AI, because opinions about it are diametrically opposed, that it can even threaten us!

– I operate in an area where AI is not dangerous. I am looking for solutions in the area where I would like to help people, that is, to replace with it manual measurements, which are the basis for all kinds of inference, estimation and so on. It’s a difficult, labor-intensive, sometimes subjective process, because in the forest every tree, even of the same species, depending on its age and where it grows – in what habitat and environment – is different.

From my point of view, I don’t see any threats from AI, and on the contrary, I see great opportunities for support in replacing humans in labor-intensive activities currently performed with a lot of effort and resources. Then the experts performing the management work will therefore be able to devote time to properly plan the activities needed to be carried out in the forest in future years. With AI it’s like the Internet, which can be used for good and bad purposes.

An important aspect related to the use of e.g. ChatGPT is to safeguard the interests of creators, to normalize copyright, because in this area we have a lot of inaccuracies. This process will not be stopped, but the problem that has arisen needs to be solved, after all, AI does not, for the time being, cite sources of scientific publications. Many groups of people are already disadvantaged: creators, artists.

– What are the IBL’s upcoming plans?

– We see our role primarily as an application of scientific solutions, that is, an attempt to transfer the often theoretical work to the so-called “scientific”. real and create solutions for a wide range of nature managers – mainly forest areas. As a result of our extensive scientific cooperation, we are laying the necessary groundwork that, in cooperation with stakeholders, will lead to the creation of new and innovative practical solutions that are also based on artificial intelligence.

Of course, we are writing some projects all the time, trying to find financing for our ideas, because only a dozen or so percent of the IBL’s budget, which has an A category in the current assessment, is a subsidy, so we have to make up the shortfall on the market.

– And how do you see the future of forests in Poland?

– Polish forestry, not only in my opinion, is an example of skillful reconciliation of different people’s needs. The population of large predators: wolves, bears and lynxes is growing. The bison have to be moved to other locations, as the capacity of their existing seats is no longer sufficient. Poles have grown accustomed to and come to terms with the rich biodiversity of Poland’s forests, and this is due in large part to Polish foresters.

On the other hand, however, when evaluating the actions of the State Forests, one must be aware of the fact that stands mostly planted after World War II are reaching the age of felling. Since those years, forest cover in Poland has increased from 20-21% to almost 30%, and, adopting some foreign definitions, even 33%, while the amount of timber, the volume of volume growing per hectare of forest, has almost doubled. Remember that in Poland we have a model of forestry where many commercial forests are allowed to grow for a long time! I have visited many places in the world where an important form of timber production is plantations of fast-growing trees, which are cut down after 20-30 years and new trees are planted in their place.

– Thank you for the interview.

dr. hab. Krzysztof Stereńczak, prof. IBL