West Point, N.Y. – U.S.M.A. Class of 2022 Cadet Nicole Wantlin has designed the ability to view the thaw cycle of an Alaskan North Slope arctic site through virtual reality (VR) using Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)-based multispectral imagery along with photogrammetrically-derived digital surface models (DSMs) for the purpose of monitoring permafrost degradation.
Wantlin, a Geospatial Informational Science major at the U.S. Military Academy, was remotely mapping permafrost terrain in the Arctic using drones to feed data to software programmed to detect changes over time, such as frost heaves and thermokarsts.
“The reason this is important to the Army is that as the arctic ice begins to break up, more and more traffic will be seen in the area and we may need to have a greater presence in the tundra,” Wantlin said.
The technology and research application allows for detailed three-dimensional modeling of under-mapped territory, contributing to the Army’s understanding of the changing terrain and how to potentially navigate different areas.
Wantlin is using multispectral UAS aerial imagery surveys conducted during the 2021 seasonal thaw cycle at four North Slope sites, including additional data which has been collected since 2019.
“In the coming weeks, we are going to assess the 2021 data to see if there is a change over a three-year period instead of just one season’s melt,” Wantlin said.
Immersive visualization by way of head-mounted-display virtual reality allows us to explore the high-resolution 3D reconstruction of the Arctic field sites and perform qualitative evaluations of our land-cover classification results.
In addition to tactical advantages this could provide the Army, monitoring the terrain changes is important because the permafrost contains greenhouse gases which are released during the thaw cycle and could contribute further to climate change, she said.
“We hope to better support the Army’s understanding of climate change and to be able to assess terrain changes more efficiently,” Wantlin said.
Collection of this data was funded by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), Project #RC19-1382.
West Point's 23rd annual Projects Day will showcase more than 400 research projects by over 1,000 cadets! We welcome and celebrate the over 80 external partners and West Point faculty who contributed to these cadet-led projects.
About West Point
The U. S. Military Academy at West Point is a four-year, co-educational, federal, liberal arts college located 50 miles north of New York City. It was founded in 1802 as America's first college of engineering and continues today as the world’s premier leader-development institution, consistently ranked among top colleges in the country. Its mission remains constant—to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the nation as an officer in the U. S. Army. For more information about the academy, go to www.westpoint.edu.