Biological Sciences, Santa Barbara City College pipeline center for sustainability

Biology 130: Methods in Field Biology

Field Technique:  Remote Sensing and Plant Surveys

Review the IDEAS website under "what we measure"
We can also look at data they have collected here.
Review Lecture from Dar Roberts's class

The VIPER lab uses remote sensing of numerous variables from temperature, humidity, solar radiance, and evaporation.


remote sensing equipment
(Remote Sensing station at Coal Oil Point Reserve. Photos by Adam Green)


They combine the remote sensing data with on the ground vegetation surveys using transects.

Step 1: Find the end points of the transect lines and run a transect tape from beginning to end.

Step 2: Place flags at randomly chosen points that include a randomly selected side of the line. These will be the locations for the quadrats.

transect line plant surveys
(Setting up transect and quadrat locations. Photo by Adam Green)


Step 3: Take surface temperature and radiation measurements at each flagged location.


surface temperature measurements

In the data sheet to the right you can see the data needed. Tran # is transect number, Q# is quadrat number, Time is time when the measurement was taken, Temperature in degrees celsius is taken at three spots in the area near the flag. The pyranometer is held above the area and it measures upwelling radiation from the ground and downwelling radiation from the sun.


Step 4 (Photographing the quadrat and taking surface roughness measurements): A group of 3-4 sets up the first quadrat to take a photo of the quadrat for later analysis. This group has to go first because the photos need to be of the quadrat with the least disturbance and later work can disturb the site.

Photographing the quadrat requires the following:

  1. The camera lens needs to be about 1 meter from the ground and level. The quadrat should fill the frame of the camera.
  2. Place the grey scale bar next to the plot so that it is in the frame of the photo. The grey scale bar allows the image to be corrected if there is any issues with exposure.
  3. Take a photo of the quadrat with a card indicating the quadrat.
  4. Take a second photo of the quadrat without the card.


photographing quadrat

In the left image one student measures the height from the ground to the end of the camera lens. In the right image you can see the level used to make sure the camera is level, the grey scale bar that needs to be in the photo, and the card that indicates the quadrat.


Measuring surface roughness: measure the height of the dominant and co-dominant species of vegetation in the center of the quadrat and around the middle of each of the four sides of the quadrat. You want to measure what is representative of the height at each of these locations.


camera data


Step 5: The camera group moves to the next location and sets up again. They leave the quadrat behind so that the next group (thermal imaging) can take a thermal image of the exact same quadrat location as the camera group.

Taking a thermal image of the quadrat requires the following:

  1. The camera lens should be about 120 cm from the ground and level. This camera will only get a part of the quadrat in the frame so shoot at the middle to avoid getting the edges of the quadrat in the frame. This may require some fiddling with the tripod to get the camera directly over the quadrat. The camera should be set on "thermal fusion."
  2. Take a photo of the quadrat with a card indicating the quadrat.
  3. Take a second photo of the quadrat without the card.


thermal imaging

thermal data

For the thermal imaging data you need to record the transect and quadrat information, the time the photo was taken and the height of the camera.


Step 6: Once the thermal camera group is finished they take the quadrat to the camera group that uses it to set up the next location, and the thermal camera group now sets up on the quadrat the camera group just finished.


Step 7: The plant survey group now places a 1/2 meter by 1/2 meter quadrat on the spot where the thermal camera group just left. This plant survey quadrat is sectioned into 4 quadrants.



The Plant Survey group collects the following data:

  1. Presence/Absence (as 0/1) of the species in the list on the data sheet.
  2. Abundance (number of individual plants) of some species indicated by ** in the plant list.
  3. The number of quadrants in which each species is found.
  4. The percentage of cover for each species using the BB scale.
  5. The phenology of the ** species.


species data

plant surveys

When all is going smoothly there will be three groups working simultaneously with the camera group in front, the thermal imaging group second, and the plant survey group third. The thermal imaging group is taking an image of the exact quadrat the the camera group just left, and the camera group is taking the quadrat from where the thermal imaging group just left and starting a new location. The plant surey group is following behind both imaging groups. Given the plant surveying takes time a second group may be included and the two plant survey groups would leap frog eachother along the transect.


The location of the IDEAS station at Coal Oil Point:

aerial photo ideas station

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Revised 26 January, 2015
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