Geography researchers bring RemoteEx 2018 workshop to U of L

Researchers from Norway, the United States and Canada gathered at the University of Lethbridge’s Westcastle Field Station and Castle Mountain Resort recently for a week-long RemoteEx Graduate Training Workshop, Using UAVs and Structure from Motion (SfM) in Cryospheric Research.

Organized by Department of Geography faculty members Drs. Hester Jiskoot and Philip Bonnaventure, the event featured 25 participants from eight institutes. Three invited workshop instructors, Dr. Matt Nolan (Fairbanks Fodar), Ellie Bash (PhD candidate, University of Calgary), and U of L alumnus Dan Juhlin (BSc ’10, Government of Alberta), offered a mixture of lecture/tutorial presentations and practical exercises using specialized software and pre-processed snow and glacier data. Workshop participants were also treated to indoor and outdoor practice sessions, flying a range of multi-rotor and fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

“It was an excellent week for everyone,” says Jiskoot, associate professor of physical geography & glaciology. “In addition to those activities, students and faculty gave conference-type research presentations, ranging in topics from Antarctic ice shelves to Arctic permafrost hotspots, and from glacier surge dynamics to post-fire interactions between shrubs and permafrost.”

RemoteEx is a Norwegian/Canadian/U.S. partnership exchange program (2017-2020) for studies and research on remote sensing of the cryosphere (snow, glaciers, permafrost, sea ice) with 10 partner institutes. It provides support for graduate students to take courses on each side of the Atlantic, while both students and faculty members are supported when participating in research exchanges to North America or Norway at a RemoteEx partner institute.

Jiskoot explains the inaugural RemoteEx activity was a June 2017 workshop and steering meeting in Iceland, where herself, Bonnaventure and U of L master’s student Rory Gibson represented the University.

Dr. Philip Bonnaventure, left, master's student Rory Gibson and Dr. Hester Jiskoot, right, in Iceland in 2017.

“A total of 30 participants from Norway and North America gave presentations and learned about Iceland’s glaciers and geology through fieldtrips and a sampling of geothermal pools,” she says. “As a result of this meeting, I became a graduate supervisory committee member of a student at the University of Maine, and in Spring 2018 was invited to give two research seminars at their Orono campus.”

In Spring 2018, Bonnaventure’s master’s student, Madeleine Garibaldi, made use of the RemoteEx network to take the Special topics in remote sensing and terrain analysis graduate course at the University of Oslo. Currently, Jiskoot’s PhD student, Jade Cooley, is participating in the 5th bi-annual McCarthy International Summer School in Glaciology, organized by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. In addition, a graduate course at the University Centre in Svalbard, the world's northernmost institution for higher education and research, is planned for 2019.

“The partnership of the University of Lethbridge in the RemoteEx program has allowed our glaciology and permafrost research labs to make excellent use of student and faculty mobility to strengthen research collaborations with North American and Norwegian colleagues,” adds Jiskoot. “We’re also working on joint training of graduate students in advanced uses of remote sensing techniques in cryospheric research.”

Multi-year funding of approximately $310,000 is primarily provided by the Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Higher Education (SiU). RemoteEx project leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are the University of Oslo and University of Ottawa. All RemoteEx workshop activities, including participant lodging, airfare and ground transportation to Lethbridge, were funded by RemoteEx, with a small contribution from the U of L’s Faculty of Arts & Science Dean’s Office towards local logistics. Participating U of L graduate students Jade Cooley, Madeleine Garibaldi, Kyle Bexte and undergraduate student Oliver Kienzle also provided logistic support.

To learn more about RemoteEx see: