WATCH: UH Hilo geographer explains his use of innovative drone and mapping technology in his Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death research

In a new video, geographer Ryan Perroy, an associate professor at UH Hilo, explains the technology he uses in his award-winning research into the spread of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death.

In a new video, a researcher at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo explains his use of innovative drone and mapping technology to study the spread of Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death, a devastating fungal disease killing off large areas of native forest on Hawai‘i Island.

In areas of diseased trees, Ryan Perroy, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, is using drones to capture aerial imagery, which is then converted into easily understood maps created with data visualization techniques. Perroy is also using drones to collect samples from the canopy of suspect trees for laboratory analysis, an innovative technique that saves ground crews from the dangers of traversing rugged forest environments.

“My role in the work ongoing with Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death is to basically collect high-resolution imagery and other types of spatial data that we can use to monitor changes in the forests over time and also when there are suspected new outbreak areas,” says Perroy. “We use these small unmanned aerial systems—or people call them drones—and they allow us to collect high-resolution imagery so I can try and see what’s going on.”

Perroy recently won $70,000 for his innovative contribution to ROD research. He was awarded first place in The ‘Ōhi‘a Challenge, a statewide competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, the National Invasive Species Council Secretariat, the National Park Service, and Conservation X Labs.

Perroy is principle investigator at the UH Hilo Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Labs, a research unit applying geospatial tools to local environmental problems in Hawai‘i and the Pacific region. In addition to the ROD research, Perroy also uses drones in mapping natural disasters, notably the recent lava flows on Hawai‘i Island (to learn more, see UH Hilo Drone Team monitored recent lava flow, provided data to Civil Defense).