Polar bear conservation research aided by SFU radar technology
Engineering students from SFU’s Synthetic Aperture Radar Laboratory (SARlab) have been working with Polar Bears International (PBI), Brigham Young University and ARTEMIS Inc., at the remote Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, to test the effectiveness of SAR technology to detect mother polar bears living in their dens.
“Our research aims to establish SAR as a useful tool to identify occupied and unoccupied polar bear dens remotely from aircraft, to help us better understand and protect polar bear populations around the world,” says Bernhard Rabus, SFU School of Engineering Science professor and Industrial Research Chair in Synthetic Aperture Radar.
By using the SFU SARlab airborne radar system that is set up on a helicopter platform, it enables the team to conduct their research above air without disturbing the bears. The system then can capture high-definition images by transmitting microwave pulses and record reflections from the earth’s surface and can penetrate deep into dry snow. Furthermore, as SAR is weather independent, it can capture images through rain, cloud, and darkness.
“By protecting mother polar bears and their cubs, we can ensure the next generation of polar bears has the best chance of survival,” says BJ Kirschhoffer, PBI’s director of field operations. “The Arctic is an incredibly difficult and remote place to do research, so using technology to find solutions to these challenges presents a unique opportunity for conservation. We are grateful to work with students from Simon Fraser University and Brigham Young University to help us answer these questions and develop these technologies to protect polar bears.”