Lab Canada

Research chair to shed light on earth’s surface

Victoria, BC – A new research chair at the University of Victoria will look to find new ways to use data collected by sensors in planes and satellites to protect and manage natural resources..

Geologist Benoit Rivard, former director of the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Alberta, has been appointed BC Leadership Chair in Hyperspectral Remote Sensing. It is the first chair in this field in Canada.

Hyperspectral imaging collects and measures both visible light reflected from surface features like rocks, trees and water, as well as the nonvisible energy they emit. Dr Rivard is a leader in interpreting hyperspectral data and has special expertise in geological remote sensing.

“Dr Rivard’s appointment builds on UVic’s already considerable strengths in hyperspectral remote sensing,” said David Turpin the university’s president. “Dr Rivard and his program will be a provincial focal point for research on the application of hyperspectral imaging technology to BC’s natural resource challenges and opportunities.”

Dr Rivard is working with government, industry and other university researchers to develop new hyperspectral techniques for resource exploration and environmental monitoring. He is also developing methods to find early signs of such pests as the mountain pine beetle.

“Once the trees show signs visible to our eyes, the beetles have already moved on,” he said. “To take action, we need to detect an infestation while the trees are still green. This is one of many resource management areas where hyperspectral imaging has great potential.”

The BC government provided $2.25 million to endow the chair permanently through its Leading Edge Endowment Fund. The provincial contribution was matched by funds from the university and its foundation.

Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information on an object, area or phenomenon from a distance, typically by using aircraft, satellites, buoys or ships. Hyperspectral imaging, which collects and measures the reflection of hundreds of wavelengths of light from ground features, provides much more detailed imagery than conventional remote sensing systems.

At the University of Victoria, scientists use ground-based, airborne and satellite-based hyperspectral imaging systems to study the condition of targets such as water surfaces or vegetation canopies. The data is used for various applications such as mapping the health of coastal environments, or determining the risk factor for forest fires or the extent of pine beetle infestation.

University of Victoria says it is the only academic institution in Canada to have an airborne hyperspectral scanner, flown in partnership with Terra Remote Sensing in Sidney, BC. The scanner is being combined with other sensors – such as thermal scanners, digital cameras and a LiDAR scanning laser system – to address issues in resource exploration and management, and environmental monitoring.

Working with government, industry and other university research partners, Dr Rivard will investigate new hyperspectral techniques for resource exploration and environmental monitoring. A specific project is the search for an early hyperspectral signal of mountain pine beetle infestation.

Dr Rivard is also developing new hyperspectral methods for detecting a range of minerals and rock types, and for estimating their abundance and distribution in a wider range of geological environments, including the Canadian North. This work has the potential to reduce field exploration costs for resource industries.

Educated at McGill University and Washington University, Dr Rivard has published more than 60 research papers in refereed journals and more than 20 specialized field guides and reports on the use of spectroscopy in geological mapping and surveying for minerals.